Thomas Dyball, Convict (1809-1905)

On the 30 June 1905 one of New South Wales’ longest lived transported convicts, Thomas Dyball, breathed his last at Port Macquarie having lived a full and healthy life of 96 years.

The Dyball name is most commonly associated with the Norfolk area of England. This Thomas Dyball was born on 30 January 1809 in the parish of Burgh St. Margaret (Yarmouth) in Norfolk to parents Robert Dyball and Ann Dyball (nee Copping).

On 8 April 1829 the Bury and Norwich Post recorded the proceedings of the Norfolk Lent Assizes as follows:

… John Browne aged 17 and Thomas Dyball pleaded guilty to, and John Felmingham, aged 21, was charged with having feloniously broken into the dwelling-house of Thomas Willis, of Acle, shop-keeper, and stolen twenty yards of cotton cord, twelve pair of worstead stockings, and other articles, his property on the 21st of February last, and Thomas Benstead was charged with having received the same, knowing it to have been stolen. – Benstead was acquitted, and Felmingham found guilty, and judgment of Death recorded against him.

Thomas was sentenced to transportation for life in New South Wales. He arrived in Sydney on the “Sarah” on 6 December 1829 and was later transferred to the Port Macquarie convict establishment where he was granted a ticket of leave. There he met Catherine Calnan, another convict who had been sentenced to transportation for seven years for picking pockets. Catherine had arrived in Sydney of the “Elizabeth” on 17 December 1836.

Being convicts the couple had to seek permission to marry, and this was given by Rev. John Croos who married them on 18 July 1841. Catherine  received a certificate of freedom in 1845 and Thomas a conditional pardon two years later in early 1847, and at that time with three children and Catherine again pregnant the family decided to stay at Port Macquarie initially. The pardon coincided with the closure of the convict establishment at Port Macquarie as the free settler population in Hastings River grew.

In 1850 the Dyballs moved to the Manning River and became some of the earliest settlers in that area. Thomas took up a selection at Taree Estate and there the couple eventually had nine children before Catherine died at the age of 52 years on 22 November 1870.

Thomas lived on his property for more than fifty years. Only his last eighteen months were spent in ill health when he lived firstly with his sons at Taree and then with his daughter Prudence Grace (Dyball) Beattie on Rawdon island in the Hastings River a little upstream of Port Macquarie where he died. He was buried at the Wauchope Cross Roads Cemetery.

His obituary published in the Manning River Times and Advocate on Saturday 5 August 1905 stated how he could recount many interesting reminiscences of the early days of settlement in this district. It tells of his birth in Norfolk, England and his “immigration” to New South Wales in 1829, but neglects to mention his convict past.

Aussie Sacrifices

What extraordinary times we are currently experiencing with the Covid-19 pandemic, which will undoubtedly go down in history as one of the significant events of modern times. Around the world people are being told by their governments of the need to make sacrifices in order to combat this Corona virus. To many, the imposed restrictions are seen as a virtual infringement on their personal liberties, impinging on individual rights, their lifestyle and for many their employment. In the main, these sacrifices have been borne well by the Australian community; a testament to our dichotomous culture of individualistic larrykinism and a communal spirit of “mateship.” The underlying acknowledgement of the need for a disciplined approach to this challenge, shown by the average citizen and the nation’s leaders appears to be making the sacrifices worthwhile.

Sapper Alfred Ernest Morrison

But today my mind also goes to other Aussie sacrifices as we prepare for a very different Anzac Day tomorrow. This day is important to a vast number of Australian (and or course New Zealanders) but it will be a very private Anzac Day this year while we are ‘social distancing.’ My private reflections will be of the sacrifices made by my own father, Alfred Ernest Morrison, in WW2.

At the age of 24, Alf was tall and athletic, a good all round sportsman. Sapper Morrison (NX300730) after enlisting in the 8th Division A.I.F. in June 1940, trained at Liverpool and Bathurst before sailing to Singapore with the 2/12 Field Company in August 1941. Not long after his arrival the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour on 7 December 1941. This was closely followed by attacks on Malaya and Singapore leading to the Fall of Singapore on 15 August 1942 and his capture and internment as a prisoners of war (POW).

He returned home after the war in October 1945 and throughout his life he spoke very little of his wartime experiences, but the following accounts from various authors illustrate some of the sacrifices he and thousands of other made, for us.

Map of the Railway and the POW Camps (for 70th Anniversary of the Thai-Burma Railway, Australian Railway Museum, 2013)

Changi Gaol was home for thousands of Allied prisoners for three and half years except for external work parties. Various “Forces” were dispatched to Japan, Borneo, Thailand and Burma to provide ‘slave’ labour for the Japanese war effort. In April 1942 Alf was part of the 7,000 strong “F” Force (3,444 British and nearly 3,600 Australians) that left Changi to work on the notorious Thailand to Burma railway, proposed to facilitate the invasion of India. “F” Force was later described as being “nine months of hell” and suffered the highest percentage of deaths of any Force on the railway.

The railway was 415km (258m) long starting at Ban Pong in Thailand and finishing at Thanbyuzayat in Burma. Between 180,000 and 250,000 civilian labourers and about 61,000 Allied prisoners of war worked as forced (slave) labourers during its construction and about 90,000 civilian labourers and more than 12,000 Allied prisoners died.
(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burma_Railway)

“The work was so physically exhausting that some men died at work and were carried back to camp to be cremated. The work involved digging the cuttings, building the embankments and keeping the roads between camps open by cutting logs and laying them on the mud to make a ‘corduroy’ road.”
(Arneil, Stan, ‘One Man’s War’, Macmillan, Sydney, 1980, p.92)

When the remnants of “F” Force returned to Changi just prior to Christmas 1942, Arneil recalls that they were “… at the very end of our physical resources…” and that at Changi “We have at last fallen into a prisoners paradise…”

“All prisoners of the Japanese wherever they were starved to the brink of death and thus we were not shocked by emaciated bodies.  … Even so, we were totally unprepared for the human wreckage which returned to Changi as the survivors of “F” Force. In the trucks sat slowing moving skeletons emaciated almost beyond belief, many with dreadful sores and peeling skin, some unable to move and others so light that a Changi prisoner had no difficulty in lifting them.”
(Wall, Don, “Heros of F Force”, 1993, p.140)

The survivors of “F” Force (like so many of those that have served our country) displayed the discipline and comradeship that has been an inspiration and a further example of the Anzac spirit. On the Thai-Burma railway:

Anzac Day March

“… The Australians concentrated solely on the business of living, almost ‘willing’ themselves to live.”
(Arneil, p.91)

On Anzac Day 2020, remembering the sacrifices that my father and others made for us, puts our current predicament into some sort of perspective. Of course the Covid-19 pandemic brings some loss of lives, hardships and sacrifices to the high standard of living. However the example of the sacrifices made by our parents and grandparent has surely made it possible for us to endure this current situation and look forward positively to the future.

Norma Beryl (Bray) Morrison (1920-2005)

On this day, November 28, ninety-nine years ago my dear mother, Norma Beryl Bray, came into this world.

A young Norma

Born at Hurstville, she was the first of two children to Alfred Ernest Cornelius and Clarice Belle (Bryant) Bray. At about the age of two the young family moved to Restwell Street Bankstown when Alf qualified for a War Service home following World War 1. Bankstown was still a developing suburb at that time and Restwell Street was initially a strip of concrete pavement with no shoulders of kerb and guttering running down from the railway station.

Norma used to recall fond memories of growing up in Bankstown with her best friend Jean two doors away, her brother Doug and the school just up the hill. Recreation included the girl guides, mushroom hunting and family picnics to the Georges River or on trips on Alf’s old motor launch that he kept at Picnic Point. As a teenager Norma developed an interest in swimming when the new Bankstown Olympic pool opened in 1933. This later turned to competitive diving and she was a contender to represent in the Commonwealth Game, until an accident at home. Her father had fired buckshot at rats in the backyard and hit her in the knee. This sapped her confidence and she didn’t return to diving.

After graduating from the Domestic School she learned typing and shorthand and worked in the City. In her social life she enjoyed evening dances either locally or in the City at venues like the Trocadero. She was “stepping out” with her boyfriend Ernie “Skipper” Jordan at dances and watching him play football.

Norma was 20 years old when WW2 broke out. Ernie tried to enlist in the army with his football mate Alf Morrison, but his widowed mother was ill and needed his assistance. Later he decided to join the navy and was assigned to the HMAS Sydney. The sinking of this ship in November 1941 and loss of Ernie was devastating to Norma and she took quite a time to recover. It almost certainly influenced her decision to join the WRANS in October 1942. She was an early enlistment in this new service, number WR120, and spent the next four years as a cook at HMAS Harman at Canberra and later as a Petty Officer at HMAS Rushcutters in Sydney.

WRAN Norma Bray, WR120

After the war she teamed up with Alf Morrison who had returned to Bankstown after three and a half years as a prisoner of war in Changi and on the infamous Burma Railway. They were married on 13 July 1946 and were united for 49 years until his death in 1995 raising four children.

Norma and Alf’s Wedding, 1946

Alf was a carpenter and built the first family home at Auburn Road Yagoona. The family moved to Narooma on the NSW coast for five year before returning to Sydney where Alf built a home at Sutherland were they lived for the next ten years. During this period Norma raised her children, supplemented the family income when necessary and looked after Alf as health problems, resulting from his wartime incarceration, started to surface.

Norma and daughter – First baby born in Crown Street Women’s Hospital in 1949

As they approach retirement, the decision was made to move to Sawtell on the NSW north coast where Alf built their final family home. With the two younger children finishing school, Alf finally retired with a Totally and Permanently Incapacitated (TPI) pension. This was not an easy period for Norma but she renewed her interest by becoming a Guide Leader and embracing “outside” fishing.

The couple’s final house moves were to the Central Coast where after trying to cope in their own home, they moved into the Lake Haven Masonic Village. Alf’s health condition was progressively deteriorating but they were able to undertake some overseas travels to Singapore and Thailand proving both a joy and therapeutic to both of them. Norma made several very close friends at the village and she threw herself into volunteering at Legacy for which she was later commended. Lake Haven was the venue of many family gatherings for Christmases and birthdays for her dispersed children and growing number of grandchildren.

Norma and Alf in Singapore

Alf died in 1995 at the age of 79 years and in Norma’s ten final years she enjoyed many holiday trips with her Lake Haven friends. She was dearly loved by her family and friends for her selfless approach to life.

Today the ashes of both Norma and Alf lie together with commemorative plaques at the Toukley RSL gardens. Although somewhat “out of the way”, her children often stop to say hello.