The Mighty Murray River

Proud Mary River Cruise

Together with friends, we recently had the pleasure of a five day cruise on the Murray River from Murray Bridge about an hour south-east of Adelaide, upstream visiting the historic towns of Mannum and Swan Reach and as far as the first of fifteen locks at Blanchetown, and then back again.

Map courtesy of the Murray–Darling Basin Authority (MDBA)

Murray River in South Australia

 

Like many Australians, I have had a passing acquaintance with the Murray River over the years. I have crossed it numerous times at Albury/Wodonga on the Hume Highway driving between Sydney and Melbourne. I have visited Renmark and Mildura, and historic Echuca enjoying a short trip on a paddle steamer. I have played golf at several of the fine courses along its banks including Corowa, Cobram-Barooga, Yarrawonga and Tocumwal. I have attended a conference at Wentworth at the confluence with the Darling River discussing ways to mitigate the infrequent but inevitable floods that occur in this catchment. However, in these few days in South Australia we learned much more about the river giving a greater understanding behind its Mighty Murray title.

The Murray rises in the Australian Alps just south of Mount Kosciusko and after a journey of over 2,500 kilometres through New South Wales and Victoria meets the ocean at Goolwa on Lake Alexandrina in South Australia. Together with the Darling-Barwon and Murrumbidgee Rivers together with their many tributaries, the total catchment covers more than 1 million square kilometres and makes up about 14% of the Australian continent. In this catchment, the flood of record at Wentworth was in 1870 when flows in both the Murray and Darling Rivers combined to inundate the countryside.

Aboriginal Rock Carvings at Ngaut Ngaut

That history of the Murray River is very Aussie. The Murray has supported life for aborigines through the millennia and ancient rock carvings can still be seem at places like the Ngaut Ngaut Aboriginal Reserve at Nildottie. As a major transport corridor in the 19th century it helped to develop inland Australia. In its heyday more than 200 paddle steamers are said to have carried supplies and produce between the various settlements along its banks.

The township of Mannum that we visited was one of the major ports. It now has an extensive museum telling the story of its early history and pioneers such as the Randell family whose members held some of the first leases in the 1850s, operated the first paddle steamer, the “Mary Ann”, in South Australia in 1853 and raised the first building in Mannum in 1864.

Historic Plaque, Mannum

Among others were the Shearer brothers with their agricultural manufacturing business contributed greatly to the area’s prosperity throughout the latter part of the century. Here we also learnt of the historic 1956 flood that affected much of the town and how rowboats pulled up at the first floor balcony of the pub to get a beer from the higher bar the publican had quickly set up.

The main traffic these days consists of river cruise boats giving tourists a glimpse of the wide variety of birdlife, the ancient river red gums that thrive with their toes in the water ,and which have some of the most beautiful red timber often used for furniture and decorative works.

In the lower South Australian reaches that we travelled the river has cut its broad path, over millions of years, through the soft red sandstone countryside to form kilometre after kilometre of sheer cliffs that are alternatively on either the right or left side as it meanders across its flood plain. At Big Bend the cliffs are more than 30 metres high and quite majestic in the sunlight as the boat sweeps around the curving river.A feature of the area has been the use of the local sandstone for the construction of houses and civic buildings and which gives

Sandstone Building (Swan Reach)

 

Sandstone Building (Mannum)

The Murray is not a roaring torrent but a wide slow moving laid-back flow falling only about two centimetres every kilometre. On our visit we had the opportunity to learn more about it and its history as well as enjoying the serenity of this very Australian river.

Sweeping Sandstone Cliff at Big Bend
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Alfred Ernest Cornelius Bray (1897-1968)

On this day, 22 June in 1968, Alfred Ernest Cornelius Bray passed away at the Repatriation Hospital, Concord, NSW, Australia, aged 71 after serving in two world wars, being heavily involved in sport, and the RSL movement, starting up his own business while with his wife Belle raising two children. One or my regrets is that I didn’t get to know my grandfather better.

 

Alf Bray

Alf was born on 3 March in 1897 at Hurstville, NSW, the second child and eldest son of the eight children of Alfred Charles and Ellen Louisa (Cole) Bray. Growing up in Hurstville as a youngster he played rugby union but then converted to rugby league which became his passion.

His father was a railway mail guard which probably enabled Alf to get a position as a clerk with the NSW Railways at Railway Yards. However in 1914, at the age of seventeen is father Alfred Charles Bray was one of fourteen people killed it the Exeter rail disaster (see my post if March 16, 2018). This caused considerable problems for his mother Ellen and her family.

Alf was now the male head of the family but just over a year later at the age of just 18 years, in August 1915, he enlisted in the AIF answering the call of mother England to fight in World War 1. Sailing from Sydney in December and after training in Egypt he arrived in France in March 1916 part of A Company of the 3rd Battalion. He served in France and Belgium at the Somme, in Flanders and many other theatres until 22 June 1918 when at Strazelle he was caught in a German gas attack. He was seriously injured and after treatment in Boulogne, convalesced in England for a period before returning to his unit and final back to Australia in February 1919. Alf kept diary throughout the war years and it is now held by the NSW State Library. While in Flanders he bought a souvenir pewter broach of the coat of arms of Ypres and which he later gave to his wife.

Ypres WWI Souvenir

He returned home and lived with his family at Woids Avenue, Hurstville before marrying Clarice Belle Bryant on 16 October 1919 at Kogarah, took up his position of clerk in the Railways and a year later their daughter Norma Beryl was born.

His war service entitled him to a War Service home and in early 1923 the family moved to their brand new home in Restwell Street Bankstown. The following year a son, Douglas Arthur was born. He also transferred to the railway sheds at nearby Punchbowl and under doctor’s orders walked to and from work to further help with recuperation from his gas-affected lung problems.

At Restwell Street created a family home making maximum use of the back yard. He laid out paths separating garden beds where he grew vegetables and flowers. He built fish ponds, aviaries, and there was garage that he used as a workshop. Norma would recall how he would arrive home from work, have a cup of tea and then spend all evening until dinner in the back yard or garage. When I was only young we would enjoy visiting Nana and Pa and exploring the back yard with their silky terrier, Skippy.

He encouraged and supported both children in sports with Norma taking up competitive diving while Doug raced bicycles. There were also plenty of family outings, a favourite being boating in his cabin launch on the Georges River.

His own sporting activities had started when he played rugby union but in 1915. He soon transferred to rugby league with the Penshurst R.L.F.C. in the St, George Competition. After the war he took up the whistle, becoming a referee in 1923, and he officiated in the Canterbury-Bankstown Competition until 1933, and was the Hon. Secretary of Canterbury-Bankstown Referees’ Association in 1929. In 1936 he became Secretary of the Canterbury-Bankstown Junior League, and then on the Committee of the District Club when they won their first premiership in 1938. He replaced Frank Miller as Canterbury-Bankstown Club Secretary in 1939 until WWII intervened (refer The Rugby League News July 1, 1939).

Alf’s war experiences also generated a deep interest in supporting his fellow war veterans. He was one of the instigators in the establishment of the Bankstown Sub-Branch of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia (RSL) in October 1928 and was its first President. He remained in the role until 1933 and was a member of the State Executive of NSW in 1932-3. When a Women’s Auxiliary was also formed, Belle was its first Secretary.

The RSL Club started at the top of Restwell Street in a tin shed near the railway line but meetings were also held on the Bray residence in Restwell Street with Belle baking cakes for supper. The RSL members assisted out-of-work men during the Depression. Working out of Alf’s garage, scrap pieces of timber from timber yards were made into toys for Christmas presents such as wheel barrows, school cases, chairs, etc.

He again volunteered for service when World War 2 broke out, enlisting in July 1940 claiming he was born in December 1900 (giving him an age of 39 years instead of 43). . He served as a Temporary Warrant Officer training recruits at Dorrigo, Uralla and Armidale but was discharged “being medically unfit for further military service” in October 1944, no doubt as a result of his WW1 injuries.

After the war he decided to pursue his passion for gardening and on resigning from the Railways he established Bray’s Bankstown Nursery which operated in the Bankstown CBD in Fetherstone Street for many years.

Alf and Belle finally retired to Toukley on the Central Coast of NSW where they he enjoyed their last years together and he continued to propagate plants while his son Doug took over the nursery business. On his death he was cremated at Woronora Memorial Park and a plaque placed on the Wall of Remembrance in Row 16, Panel R.

Bankstown RSL 70th Anniversary

At the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the Bankstown RSL in 1998, Alf’s service to the Club was also commemorated and a special certificate of appreciation presented to his daughter.

Although he had lived a full life, my Pa still died too young surely shortened by his war experiences, and at the same age I am today. I share a common regret with many family historians, after having discovered some details about an ancestor that I didn’t have a chance to get to know my grandfather better.

 

Pub Lunches in The Rocks

When a group of friends of more than 50 years standing, but now liberally scattered across Greater Sydney decide, in their retirement, that a semi-regular luncheon get-together is in order, where should they gather to reminisce about their shared history? Somewhere central of course, and with history in mind what could be more central and appropriate than The Rocks. And because we enjoy an ale, it was decided that there would be appropriate venues among the many historic pubs there.

The Rocks

The Rocks, named for the sandstone outcrops on the peninsula west of Sydney Cove (now Circular Quay) has a most intriguing history dating from the early convict days. Within a few years of the arrival of the first fleet in 1788 Government buildings started to appear in The Rocks focusing on activities to manage convicts.

Soon after the dawning of the 19th century the Government instituted a system of leases in the area which was expanded in the early 1820s with free settlement and assisted immigration. This led to a population boom that further accelerated with the gold rushes. Business activity naturally increased over this period including the establishment of many pubs servicing the local community and workers from the harbour seafront.

By the late 19th century The Rocks had become run down and overcrowded. There were dozens of pubs that were meeting places for criminal gangs, and the back streets were haunts of prostitutes, such that it had become a typical waterfront slum.

The developments through the 20th century including the construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Cahill Expressway past Circular Quay led to demolition of many houses and further proposals for development. It wasn’t until the last quarter of the century that “green bans” and heritage controls took effect preserving many important remnants of the early history of Sydney that we are able to enjoy today.

The Glenmore Hotel

So to lunch. Our most recent outing included a meet-up at the Glenmore Hotel followed by lunch the Lord Nelson Hotel.

The Glenmore Hotel

A Glenmore Hotel has operated in two buildings in Cumberland Street, continuously since 1837. The first Glenmore Hotel, known as the Glenmore Cottage, was located less than 50m from the current hotel and was demolished to make way for the southern approaches to the Harbour Bridge and the current Hotel was built by Brewers Tooth & Co in 1921.

Although not having quite the long history of other pubs in The Rocks it offers alfresco dining and, from it high Cumberland Street position, fine views of the the harbour and Sydney Opera House from the rooftop beer garden.

The Lord Nelson Hotel

The Lord Nelson hotel on the corner of Kent and Argyle Streets. is reputed to be Sydney’s oldest pub. The building dates from 1836 and was originally built as a home by a William Wells. In 1840 he started converting his house into a hotel and on 1st May 1841 he obtained a liquor licence and called the establishment the Lord Nelson hotel.

The Lord Nelson Hotel

These days the hotel incorporates a brewery with a range of brews for every taste. Our group particularly likes their Old Admiral old ale and Three Sheets pale ale with a good meal.

The Hero of Waterloo Hotel

The Hero of Waterloo

An earlier lunch date was at another iconic sandstone pub, The Hero on the corner of Windmill and Lower Fort Streets, Millers Point. This little gem of a pub has real atmosphere with reminders of a notorious past seen in the downstairs cellars with shackles on the walls and the entrance to the supposed smuggler’s tunnel. Legends abound and some say ghosts.

Opening in 1843 the structure also suffered over the years and has been renovated to provide more modern facilities but retain its historic character and charm.

The small triangular site adds to the atmosphere which is cosy and ideal for a drink and nice meal.

Hotel Palisade

The Hotel Palisade next to Munn Street Reserve,

Millers Point was the site of a lunch some time ago, but deserves a mention. Our group together with our significant others made this pub a destination after a relaxing Sunday stroll around the new headland at Barangaroo.

Sitting high on the sandstone ridge, it was built in 1915-1916 to replace an 1880 hotel of the

Hotel Palisade

same name and recently underwent a $5m restoration after being closed for about 7 years. It is named after the palisade fence built between Munn Street and Bettington Street and built in “Federation Free Style”.

It provided a good range of beers and cosy dining.

Orient Hotel

The Orient Hotel has not yet been a recent venue for lunch but over the years has been a popular meeting place for a beer or something to eat in the tree-shaded sandstone courtyard

In 1842, on the current site of the Orient Hotel at the corner of George and Argyle Street a three-storey residence of ten rooms and a neighbouring single storey shop was constructed on and in 1853 was converted to licensed premises trading as the Marine Hotel. It was renamed the Buckham’s Hotel in 1876 and this was finally changed to the Orient in 1885.

Orient Hotel

The building has undergone a number of modifications over the last few decades to enhance its popularity to the broader public, added to by its prominent location.

What next?

Although the number of pubs in Sydney has declined over the years, there are still many more possible venues in The Rocks and we hope to visit some of them in the future.

Henry Harrison Briscoe (1798-1864)

One of the pleasures derived from family history research is finding real connections with our ancestors and having something in common such ones looks, similar experiences or personal traits. For me, I have the pleasure maybe even the honour of sharing a birthday with my great great-grandfather, Henry Harrison Briscoe, who was born on 2 June 1798.

Henry was one of the five children to Edward and Elizabeth (Osborne) Briscoe of Cloncunny in Kilkenny, Ireland. The townland of Cloncunny consisted of some 406 acres held from the Earl of Bessborough and where Henry was the middleman landlord holding the largest property and sub-leasing portions out to his tenant farmers. Although the second eldest son, Henry took over the responsibility for the Cloncunny estate from his father because of the early death of his brother Edward (junior) in 1815. Henry ran Cloncunny improving it by draining and reclaiming the bog on the estate so there was no waste land.

On 29 May 1830, the Waterford Mail recorded: ‘Married. Henry Harrison Briscoe eldest son of Edward Briscoe of Cloncunny to Eliza Thomasina, only daughter of the late Col. Thomas Walsh, 56th Regiment’ on 24 May 1830.

Henry and Eliza had a family of six children:

  • Thomas Anthony Briscoe (1831 – 1831)

  • Edward William Briscoe (1833 – 1878)

  • Caroline Elizabeth Henrietta Briscoe (b 1834-1890)

  • Alfred Philip Briscoe (1835 – 1890)

  • Henry Harrison Briscoe (1837 – 1912)

  • Thomasina Marian Briscoe (1845 – 1881)

Like many landlords, Henry served as a local Magistrate and Justice of the Peace and on the county Grand Jury. He was also the first Chairman of the Carrick-on-Suir Board of Guardians of the Poor Law Union when established in 1939 (following the passing of the Irish Poor Law Act of 1838).

Although he was a supporter of the (Protestant) status quo, as a Poor Law Inspector particularly in County Clare the minutes of the Union indicated that he served the community not only efficiently but also caringly and fairly during the Great Famine and until 1852.

Later in 1857 he was appointed as Poor Law Superintendent in Scotland for Inverness, Ross and Cromarty, Sutherland and Caithness. In this capacity he was reported to have visited over 10,000 registered poor (paupers) of heads of families, at their own houses throughout the north identifying many who were “improperly relieved.” He remained in Scotland until his death on 14 November 1864 at the age of 66 years.

The following obituary was published in the Inverness Advertiser on 18 November 1864.

DEATH OF MR HENRY HARRISON BRISCOE

Most of our readers in the north will learn with deepest regret that Mr Briscoe, General Superintendent of the Poor for the north of Scotland, is no more. About six months ago he was seized by an attack of paralysis, which completely prostrated him, and although comparative recovery was affected by medical science, he never was himself again, speech, memory and motion being all latterly affected, until the end came on suddenly on Monday afternoon last. Mr Briscoe was the very model of a Government official – indefatigable in his work, firm as flint in matters of duty and principle, and kind and courteous to all, the poor pauper equally with the lord of broad acres. Mr Briscoe was, we believe, upwards of sixty years of age, and his wiry frame and weather-bronzed countenance, when last we saw him, gave promise of a very long life; but his incessant and anxious labours, we have no doubt, broke down his naturally vigorous constitution before its time, and brought on the attack under which he ultimately succumbed.’

In the village of Fiddown, which is not far from Cloncunny in Kilkenny, a disused church has been turned into a chapel or mausoleum to the old Ponsonby (Bessborough) and Briscoe families. Among all the commemorative stones is one to our Henry Harrison Briscoe.

Fiddown Chapel

Commemorative Stone

The times in which Henry Harrison Briscoe lived were very different to our own, but I like to think that as a public servant he tried his best to do his duty as he saw it.

Richard Robins Warren (1836-1912)

On 11 June 1836, my great great-grandfather, Richard Robins Warren, was born in Bristol, England but he would live a very full life in Australia.

Richard Robins Warren

Richard’s parents were Thomas and Elizabeth (Barnett) Warren. Thomas could trace his roots back to Edwarde Warren in the 16th century Devon where his ancestors lived until Thomas moved the family to Bristol. Richard was born there and baptised in St. Mary Redcliffe church on 7 August 1836.

Although the circumstances are not known, it is understood that Richard emigrated to Australia in 1852, arriving in Port Phillip on the ship Washington Irving at the age of 16 years. It is likely that he was attracted to our shores by the great Victorian gold rush as he is next discovered on the goldfields. Within six years, on 15 March 1858 at Sandhurst (renamed Bendigo in 1891), he married Ann Livingstone the daughter of James and Isabella (Clark) Livingstone. Ten months later, my grandmother Elizabeth was born, the first of their thirteen children. When he married he was a store keeper but within a year he was mining, registering a claim and working at it until at least the mid-1860s, after which he returned to farming.

This was a period of some significant land ownership battles in Australian history. The Land Acts of the 1860s were aimed at breaking the control of the extensive land holdings held by squatters and which involved much of the usable land across Victoria. The battle raged between the wealthy, powerful squatters and those who advocated for small-scale agriculture and housing to anyone who could afford to buy it. It appears Richard was able to take advantage of these land ownership opportunities.

By the time their fifth child James Duncan was born in 1873 he was farming in Marong not far from Sandhurst. A little later in 1877 we see in the Bendigo Advertiser that he was offering for lease a fenced 20 acre Marong property, “bordering on Bullock Creek” with a comfortable weather board cottage containing four rooms, detached kitchen, outbuildings and garden. He was moving to a larger selection, and the 1880 Government Gazette stated that he had been issued a new lease on a selection of 280 acres at Leaghur in Tatchera County located to the south of the Murray River, and to the south west of Swan Hill. He retained that property until 1887 as well as another selection (allotment 36 Leaghur of 169 acres), which he transferred to one George Wilkinson in 1891.

By this time Richard and Ann now had a family of thirteen children of six girls and seven boys.

Interestingly, Richard appears in a number of newspaper articles over time.

One was in respect of his appearance at the Boort Police Court, when a Mr. J. MacDonald proceeded against him for illegally detaining a white heifer. It was claimed that the beast in question was the progeny of a cow belonging to MacDonald’s station at Leaghur. The Warrens claimed that the animal was hand-reared by them and although imperfectly branded, there was no doubt that it belonged to them. The police magistrate said the witnesses thoroughly believed what they had stated. He considered it a striking case of mistaken identity, and, although the decision of the bench might lead to further litigation, the case was dismissed. (Bendigo Advertiser, Fri 11 Jun 1886, page 3).

Another episode occurred after disposing of his Leaghur selection when he seemingly became a boarding house keeper at Swan Hill. Later in 1891 there was a “A Disputed Debt” and at the Police Court. The Bendigo Fruitgrowers’ Cooperative Company sued R. R. Warren to recover the sum of £5 11s 10d, money due in payment for fruit delivered. The result was that the company finally admitted that a misunderstanding had arisen and some mistakes had occurred. The case was dismissed but with costs to the defendant, Warren. (Bendigo Advertiser, Fri 29 May 1891, page 4).

Among his other activities, Richard was a long-term member and official of the Ovens and Murray United District of the Ancient Order of Foresters. The Ancient Order of Foresters, which originated in England in the mid-1700s, established its first branch (Court) in Victoria in 1849. It was set up as a non-profit organisation, the founding principles of the Society being to provide financial and social benefits as well as support to members and their families in times of unemployment, sickness, death, disability and old age. (ANU Archives). For a number of years about 1895, Brother R.R. Warren was the senior auditor of the Court and he was involved in many fund-raising functions for charities.

St. Kilda Cemetery

Business failure in 1895 at Swan Hill, led to Richard being declared insolvent with liabilities of £54 16s 3d and assets of only £34 19s 6d (a deficiency, of £19 16s 9d). He apparently was forced to become a labourer but then in 1897 both his wife Ann and daughter Charlotte Christina died within a month of each other. They were buried in St. Kilda cemetery in Melbourne.

Back in Swan Hill, by 1898 Richard had gained a position as a Government rabbit inspector (or destroyer). Rabbits had become a major problem for farmers in country areas of Victoria (and indeed Australia) multiplying to plague proportions following the release of a handful of animals decades earlier. He apparently worked at this in the Swan Hill area until at least 1903. As a retired civil servant and old age pensioner he moved to Melbourne living initially at 3 Bang Street, Prahran and finally at “Irene” Sycamore Grove, St. Kilda, where he died of senile debility and heart failure on 12 December 1912, aged 76.

A family notice in the Melbourne Age described him as the beloved father of Mrs. Briscoe, and J. R. Warren, and Mrs. C. Johannesen, St. Kilda; Mrs. McCurdy and J. D. Warren, and Mrs. Long, Swan Hill, and R. R. Warren and W. A. Warren. He was buried on 14 December 1912 at St. Kilda Cemetery with his wife and daughter.

 

Princes Highway Road Trip

For anyone wanting to escape the metropolis that is Sydney there are really only four highways and another minor road out of the place.

To the north, and part of National Route One running around the whole of the continent, is the Pacific Highway that generally parallels to coast all the way to Brisbane. In an anti-clockwise direction and heading more north-westerly is the Putty Road which is very much a secondary road with relatively little traffic compared to the State Highways. To the west is the Great Western Highway heading over the Blue Mountains to Bathurst opening up New South Wales and country centres further afield. In a south-westerly direction is the Hume Highway, the main artery between Sydney and Melbourne where it terminates. It now consists of a dual carriageway without a traffic light between our two major cities. To the south, and our favourite escape route, is the Princes Highway (also part of National Route One). It also roughly follows to coast much of the way and will take you to Melbourne after a trip of just over 1,000 kilometres,

Having a full two weeks available during the school holidays, Jenny and I had planned a road trip via the Princes Highway all the way to Melbourne. In addition to our love of the south coast and our desire to visit Melbourne, we had not previously travelled the Victoria section of the Highway.

Leaving Sydney, the highway starts off as the dual carriageway M6, but once past Wollongong and the increasingly populous Illawarra area the traffic progressively thins out except during holiday periods. This is changing as more people discover the beauty of, and easier access to, the south coast. The motorway now extends almost to Nowra after the recent by-passing of Berry but we chose to take a detour from this new road to stop for lunch at Gerringong overlooking its popular surf beach.

Rejoining the highway at Bomaderry we turned left at Nowra for our first stop-over at Myola on lovely Jervis Bay and just south of Callala Beach.

Evening at Myola, Jervis Bay

The Myola village nestles next to Currumbeen Creek across from Huskison and consists of a couple of dozens houses and a caravan park. Our van is less than ten minutes walk along a bush track through the Bangalay sand forest to the white sands and clear water of the bay. This is not a surf beach and except in rough weather the gentleness of the shore break adds to its isolated serenity. A couple of days here and the urban cobwebs just blow away.

narooma1
Wagonga Inlet, Narooma

The second leg of our trip took us back out onto the highway and down to Batemans Bay. Here we lunched in one of the many cafes that cater for this community of retirees that swells at weekends and on holidays with the influx of Canberrans who flock to their nearest point on the coast. From here we continued down the often windy route through the coastal forests that provide a pleasant driving experience so different from the straightened alignments of the motorways.

Our overnight stop was at Narooma, one of the real gems of the south coast with its picturesque inlet and beaches, rugged coastline and views of Montague Island. This place also has special meaning for me having lived here for five of my early school years. I like to visit Narooma and bring back those long-ago memories, and one day stay here is not really enough.

eden
Twofold Bay, Eden

Stage three of our journey would take us into Victoria but before that we decided to have a lunch of fish and chips at Eden on Twofold Bay. This was the most southerly point on the Highway we had previously reached and beyond here would be all new to us. We launched into the unknown of Victoria taking us through Orbost to where we planned to stop the night and look around in Lakes Entrance. Our short visit only whetted our appetite for a longer stay to be able to take advantage of the many waterways and beaches.

On the last leg of the trip through the Gippsland region the highway veered away from the coast and headed more or less directly to Melbourne. Passing through the country towns such as Bairnsdale and Traralgon we took pleasure in typically the Australian buildings from the federation period and often earlier. As we approached our destination the highway again turned into motorway and finally in suburban Albert Park, the Princes Highway became Queens Road where our home was to be for the next few days.

lakes entrance1
Lakes Entrance

With only a couple of minor diversions, we had completed our leisurely road trip from Sydney to Melbourne.

Henry Harrison Briscoe (1837-1912)

On this day, April 13, in 1912 my great grandfather Henry Harrison Briscoe died at his home in East Hills NSW. He now lies in an unassuming grave near his wife Elizabeth in St. Saviour’s Church of England Cemetery, Canterbury Road Punchbowl. However, the simplicity of his burial place belies his birth, the full life he lived and the journey that led him there.

Early Life

 Henry was born in 1837 in county Waterford Ireland into a well-to-do family of Henry Harrison Briscoe (snr) and Elizabeth Thomasina (nee Walsh). He was christened on 27 August that year in Clonmore, County Kilkenny near the family estate at Cloncunny.

Henry Snr was a magistrate in Kilkenny and then an inspector of poor law in County Clare during the later years and aftermath of the Great Famine. He was later appointed as the Inspector General of Poor Law in northern Scotland.

Young Henry was one of six children and the fourth and youngest son. At that time in Ireland younger sons of the gentry would generally not inherit property but rather be provided with careers such as the church, diplomatic corps or the military, and the latter seems to have been decided as young Henry’s destiny.

Henry then appears in the 1851 census when as a 13 year old he was attending a Preparatory Military School at Eltham in Kent. His fellow students included boys from throughout England, several from Ireland and British India plus one from Australia.  These latter classmates might, at least in part, explain his future travels.

Military Career

 In November 1855 it was announced in the Irish press that an Ensign commission was purchased for him in the 81st Regiment of Foot (Loyal Lincoln Volunteers).

During this period the purchasing of commissions was common for junior officers such as ensigns or second lieutenants. The army from time to time issued lists of the maximum prices for purchases of commissions and the 1837 edition of the King’s Regulations the price for an Ensign was ₤450 (being approximately equivalent to ₤30,000 today) and this is likely the sort of price Henry’s family had to pay for his commission.

The 81st had been stationed in Kilkenny at various times but was in India when Henry joined the regiment. Henry followed shortly after among “a draft arrived in Calcutta” of 1 Lieut., 2 Ensigns and 53 privates on 10 December 1855. Shortly after, in July 1856, Henry was promoted to Lieutenant with the purchase of that commission, probably for an additional ₤250.

When the Indian Mutiny (otherwise India’s First War of Independence) broke out in May 1857, the 81st Regiment was instrumental in disarming the rebels in and around Lahore in present day Pakistan, in maintaining order and preventing the spread of the mutiny in the Punjab. In 1858, “Captain Chichester, Lieuts. Musgrave, Faircloth, Speedy, Briscoe and Jackson and Qr Master Correll, served in the Eusoofxie expedition” to punish the inhabitants for harbouring mutineers. For his service Henry received the Indian Mutiny Medal in 1859.

On his return from the frontier he married the twenty year old Annie Alice Roberts in Bombay. From her death certificate we learn that Annie had been born in Hydrabad the daughter of Edward Howard Roberts and Mary (nee Rodney). Henry retired from the 81st Regiment in March 1861 when he sold his Lieutenant’s commission. Family stories suggest that for the next few years he worked in a bank or with the East India Company but no evidence of this has been discovered.

Australia

 In early 1865 Annie developed a lung disease and the young Briscoes migrated to Australia arriving in Melbourne in about April of that year.  They lived at 2 Nicholson Street, Fitzroy, where Annie’s condition deteriorated and she died on 1 January 1866. The following day she was buried in Melbourne General Cemetery. Annie’s death certificate also indicates that she had a child, another Henry Harrison, who had died but no other record of this child has been found.

It appears that Henry “went bush” soon after Annie’s death as his next appearance is in the 1869-70 electoral rolls for Balranald in NSW. He was recorded as residing in the Darling Back Country at Langawirra [station] some 130 kilometres northwest of Broken Hill. Later from the 1878-79 electoral roll we see he had a leasehold property at nearby Kayrunera [station] in the ‘Darling Back Blocks’.

This was the time when there were great stock runs north of Wilcannia on both sides of the Darling River. Intervening spaces were occupied by itinerant small nomad squatters moving their small flocks from place to place, paying periodic rentals, shearing at the woolsheds of friendly owners and moving their residences from time to time to new country on leased crown blocks. Among these were Abraham Wallace and his sons, H.H. Briscoe and W. Ifould. Henry made his living in this manner, registering a brand for his horses as HHB (conjoined letters with letters) in 1879 at Wilcannia, but he also acquired 225 (one pound) shares in the Great Wilcannia Amalgamated Copper Mining Company (Ltd) operating near Wilcannia.

To supplement his income during this period he also worked for some of the larger stations, as newspaper stock reports revealed:

“Gayer and Hamilton’s sheep in charge of H.H. Briscoe, passed Murtie station on the 10th instant. From Hay we learn that stock matters are exceedingly dull, owing principally to the prolonged dry season.”

“Our stock movements are very limited; the only passing during the week being 6000 sheep, Messrs. Gayer and Hamilton, bound for Morden, in charge of Mr. H Briscoe… Navigation, on the Darling, is stopped at present through the heavy floods coming down from Queensand. The weather continues dry and intensely hot, though we had a thunder shower on Saturday morning which cooled the air for a few hours. The river is rising fast, so we may expect the steamers up shortly”

Earlier in about 1865 Henry had met the explorer Ernest Giles during time the latter spent west of the Darling River in search of land suitable for pastoral use. Giles subsequently led three expeditions into Australia’s unknown western interior between 1872 and 1876. The following reference to Henry was made in Giles’ book of his travels, in relation to a location about 130 km south of Alice Springs:

Friday, 15th November [1972] — I rested the horses at this place to-day and did not move the camp. I walked to the top of the tent-hill, and from there saw, that the creek went through another pass a little to the N.E. of our camp. In the afternoon I rode over to this pass, and found some ponds of water a little to the west of it; a bullock, whose tracks I had seen on the creek, had got bogged here, and was now left high and dry. I called these ponds and pass “Briscoe’s-Pass” and ” Briscoe’s-Ponds,” and the little tent hill I have named “Briscoe’s-Tent,” after Mr. H. H. Briscoe, of the Darling-River, who was living with my two friends, Messrs. Middleton and Rogers, when I last saw him.

giles map
Part of Giles Map showing Briscoe’s Pass and Briscoe’s Tent

It can be concluded that Henry Harrison Briscoe was a long standing and well respected resident of the Darling Back Country. Although he may not have travelled further west to the interior of the continent, his name surely did.

On 1 February 1883 Henry finally remarried as a 45 year old widower to the 24 year old Elizabeth Warren, daughter of Richard Robins Warren and Ann Livingston(e) at the Registry Office in Hoddle Street, Collingwood, Victoria. Elizabeth was the eldest of the 13 Warren children and was born on 5 January 1859 at Huntly, Victoria.

It is not known how the two met but it is likely that the link was the ship Marco Polo that arrived in Melbourne from England on September 1852, and which carried both Henry’s future mother-in-law, Annie Livingstone, and Clara (Harrod) Stewart who had been a resident at Langawirra station.

Henry and Elizabeth’s marriage certificate shows that his usual residence was Wilcannia, NSW where he was an overseer while Elizabeth lived at Lake Leaghur in northern Victoria where she worked as a domestic servant.

Elizabeth was apparently pregnant when they married as their first child, Elizabeth Caroline Marion Thomasina, known as Carrie, was born less than seven months later on 31 August 1883 in Hawthorne, Victoria. They were both living at Smith Street, Fitzroy when they married. Two years later a second daughter, Emily Alice Isabella Livingstone who the family called ‘Sister’, was born before the family moved to country New South Wales.

Henry took up a position in the Cobar area as caretaker at the 64 Mile Tank, South Road. This position was most likely gained through another former resident of the Darling Back Blocks, James Boultbee. Boultbee had resided at Gnalta [station], not far from Langawirra, in the 1877-78 period, and in 1886 he had joined the Department of Mines and Agriculture as Superintendent of Public Watering Places. Henry later named one of his sons Boultbee. Their next child, Alfred Edward Henry Harrison was born at the 64 Mile Tank on 1 November 1886 followed by George Albert Ernest Sidney on 7 May 1888.

During the 1891 census Cobar Henry was in Winbar at the Mulya Government Tank, South of Bourke.

The next family home was at The Rock, 32 km southwest of Wagga Wagga, where Henry was the caretaker of the new Government tank dug in 1892 near the railway line to supply water for the town.

Their fifth child, Arthur William Boultbee Torrance was born at The Rock on 10 September 1892 but unfortunately he died on 2 October the following year. Arthur is buried in a lone grave beside the Old Wagga (Collingullie) Road on the north bank of Burkes Creek. The death of baby Arthur may have been the catalyst for Henry and Elizabeth’s decision to have their other four children baptised together at nearby Wagga Wagga in St John’s Church of England on 14 November 1893. The family photo was taken about that time.

hhb family
Henry Harrison and Elizabeth Briscoe and family

Henry and Eliza’s next child, John Robins Warren Low Briscoe was also born at The Rock on 11 January 1895. However when their next son Livingstone Eugene James Alexander was born on 17 July 1896, it was at Pine Street, Sydney, but the reason for being in Sydney at that time is not known.

The youngest child of Henry and Elizabeth, Doris Daisy Mary Devereux, was born on 7 July 1898 after the family had moved to Tooloora Bore near Walgett. Henry was again the caretaker of a Government bore. On 2 March 1901 another girl, Ethel Josephine Dorothy Agnes Briscoe (Aggie), was born at Tooloora Bore. Her birth certificate shows her as illegitimate with Elizabeth Briscoe, aged 46 years, as her mother and the local 28 year old grocer, Edward James Rhynehart, as the father. The seventeen year old Carrie was “present at the birth” and known to the family as the real mother. Aggie was brought up as the daughter of Henry and Elizabeth. Before leaving Walgett Carrie married a local lad, Edward Ramsden.

It is not known exactly when the family moved to Sydney but a newspaper article on 16 September 1905 identified the address of Mrs. E.G. Ramsden as ‘c/o H.H. Briscoe, Macpherson St., Waverley’. The Sands Directory indicates a H.H. Briscoe in North Sydney in 1907, a Henry H. Briscoe at Newtown in 1908 and a H.H. Briscoe in Moorefields Road Canterbury in 1909. It is very likely that these refer to our Henry. Finally in 1909 Henry Harrison Briscoe was registered as a pensioner in the electoral roll at a 13 acres property where they made their home in Tower Street, Beaconsfield, East Hills.

hhb grave
St. Saviour’s Church, Punchbowl

Henry lived with his family at East Hills until his death from cancer of the liver in 1912, aged 75 years. He was buried on 15 April 1912 at St. Saviour’s Church, Row B, Grave No 61.