History Of Clarence River And Of Grafton 1830-1880

From Daily Examiner Reference 21

The magnificent Clarence River and its fertile valley remained unknown and unexploited for half a century after the founding of the Colony in New South Wales. Its discovery and settlement were belated partly because of its inaccessibility and partly because the slow growth and spread of settlement did not make the occupation of such an area essential.

Even then, however, the discovery of the district was the result of mere chance, and its occupation-by industrious cedar-getters, ship-builders, and predatory squatters acting under the terms of the Squatting Acts of 1836 and 1839-the result of private enterprise rather than of any form of Government sponsoring.

Part 1 Discovery

The mouth of the Clarence River it not recorded on Captain Cook's charts, he having passed that spot in the night.

Matthew Flinders, on July 11. 1799, discovered in lat. 29 degrees 43 seconds south, the opening which he named Shoal Bay, "an appellation which it but too well merited." He did not think it worthy of more than a superficial examination, and therefore sailed on, disappointed that "no river of any importance bisected the east coast between the 24th and 29th degrees of south latitude."

Lieut. John Oxley, in 1823 appears to have missed Shoal Bay altogether on his northward journey which led him to the discovery of Moreton Bay.

Captain Rous, five years later, also failed to locate the mouth of the Clarence, although he did discover two rivers further north which he named the Richmond and the Clarence.

His description of the Clarence makes it obvious that the river he so named was actually the Tweed, but it was some years before the names, as we know them, were officially promulgated and the anomaly cleared up.

In the meantime, Allan Cunningham, on July 8, 1827, while returning from his journey of exploration to the Darling Downs via the New England Rnage, sighted Cape Byron over 90 miels to the east and from his lofty position looked down on the valley of the Clarence River.

The honour of being the first white man to gaze on this magnificent area does not, however belong to Cunningham.

After the penal settlement was established at Port Macquarie in 1825, escapees from Moreton Bay arrived there are regular intervals with reports of their wanderings along the coastal fringe....

One if left to guess just how many escapees must have returned to custody with reports of the country to the north, yet such was the state of affairs in the Colony that no official notice was taken of these reports – indeed the Governors remained ignorant of the existence of the valuable country until it has been exploited by the cedar getters in 1838.

The first action following a convict's report was taken from Port Macquarie in 1832. "The Colonist" (December 17. 1835 ), referring in glowing terms to "an almost interminable extent” of rich land between Port Stephens and Moreton Bay, and urging its occupation by “a numerous agricultural population” published at the same time a number of depositions taken some years previously by Major Sullivan at Port Macquarie from escapees who had given themselves up there.

Every one of these convicts referred to a ”big river” to the north and several of them claimed to have lived for some time on the river.

One Sheik, alias Jack Brown or Black Jack, had spent approximately three-and-a-half years in the area before giving himself up in 1932.

Richard Craig

The most convincing report was that of a young convict named Richard Craig, who had been sent to Moreton Bay to serve a sentence of seven years, on January 10, 1829.

He escaped from Moreton Bay in 1830, proceeded southward along the coast, crossed several rivers and came to the mouth of the Big River where he met another runaway.

He arrived at Port Macquarie in 1831, and reported that about 40 miles up the river he had come across delightful plains, and that throughout the area there were immense growths of valuable timber.

He evidently impressed the Commandant with his reports and his knowledge of the country for it was recorded that the revenue cutter, Prince George, with Craig on board, was sent to Shoal Bay in 1832, to verify his report.

Rough weather prevented the vessel entering the river, but the officer in charge was satisfied with the truth of Craig’s statement, and for this report Richard Craig received a reward of 100 pounds.

In the meantime Craig has given further proof of his abilities. A letter form Alexander Macleay, Colonial Secretary tot eh Commandant at Port Macquarie dated December 29, 1831, states: ‘With reference to the Moreton Bay runaway (named Richard Craig) employed by you as a guide to the party sent in search of stray cattle form Wellington Valley, in consequence of his perfect knowledge of the native language, I am directed by His Excellency the Governor, to acquaint you that there will be no objection to the detention and assignment of this man at Prot Macquarie, instead of returning him whence he ran way’....

Part 2 - The Cedar Getters

While reports of a big river failed to interest the Governor of New South Wales, it may be assumed that rumours of the fine stands of cedar trees in the area interested timer millers in the state, and these men would not have been anxious to over-publicise their interest.

Hence it is possible that parties of cedar-getters visited the Big River between 1832 and 1838 when the first recorded visits of cedar-getters occurred…

Part 3 - The Squatters

It is important to get Sir George Gipp’s report (on claims made for new districts by the discoverers) in its correct context. Also to estimate his opinion in relation to his keenly waged struggle with the squatter at this time, even though he recognized, as had Sir Richard Bourke before him, the futility of even attempting to confine graziers within the settlement areas.

“I am fully impressed”, he stated, “with the importance, in this pastoral country, of given every facility to the occupation, under proper restrictions, of the vacant lands of the Crown” and “as well might it be attempted to confine the Arabs of the Desert within a circle traced upon their sands, as to confine graziers or wool growers of NSW within any boundary.”...

Why did the expansion not include the Clarence region before 1839-40? Two factors were responsible.

The geographical build of the area kept out the squatters, who preferred to move into more accessible areas, which had in some cases been explored. Little was known of the Clarence area, as has been shown, and what was known of it was more likely to keep out settlers than attract them.

On the coast was a river-entrance which was known to be difficult to access, and a real problem for shipping. On the west were the rugged New England mountains, rising to 5000 feet at their highest, and extremely difficult of ascent and descent to the east.

To the south was the equally rugged Dorrigo Range, preventing expansion to the north, especially if such expansion necessitated the movement of stock.

The Clarence valley then, was something in the nature of a formidable “no man’s land”, which was better left to its aboriginal owner while there was better land to be had for the taking….

Part 4 - Influence of Overseas Capital and Of Immigration

By the 1830’s the Industrial Revolution was beginning to take definite shape in England with the increase in the output of manufactured goods and the development of transport systems on land and sea local and overseas speculation made it necessary for the banking system to expand….. Let us bring all the strands together at this point:

When all these factors are considered, we can understand why the Clarence River district was first exploited by the squatters after 1893…..

Part 5 - The Valley in Vital Stage of Australian History

The Clarence Valley as a grazing area “beyond the limits of location” developed in one of the most interesting periods of Australia’s history.

This was the period following the abolition of transportation in 1840, the very year in which the earliest squatters were taking up their runs in the new land of promise.

It was a period of rural expansion marked by bitter struggles between the squatters and the Governor on one hand, and between the squatters and the growing middle-class on the other, the ultimate result being victory for the squatters.

It was furthermore, a period of depression followed by wealth, of changing land policies after “fait accompli” by the pastoral settlers, of debauchery and crime, of the influx of new blood into the country after political upheavals in Europe, of the “roaring days” of the gold discoveries and the striving of people for self-expression in political, social and educational institutions.

The Clarence Valley, although developing as a frontier community at the far end of a long and arduous line of ' communication, was no exception, and while its own local interests determined the shape of its development, it nevertheless fitted in with the general pattern followed by other areas, stemming from the undeniable hub of Eastern Australia.

It was the rich red cedar trees which first attracted men to the Clarence, as has been pointed out…..Sawyers traveled about the river in whale boats in crews of five, and were armed, as the natives were numerous and became troublesome as the white men retaliated for their repeated thieving.

“This propensity” wrote Perry “has unfortunately led to outrages on the part of he whites” but just where the trouble first started is somewhat open to doubt.

In the forest the sawyers worked in pairs, and the giant trees, after falling, were sawn into large filches at the sawpits which were always built in the side of a steep bank, so that the saw could be worked vertically.

While the timber was obtained close to the water’s edge transport difficulties were minimized, as the logs were slid abroad the anchored schooners by means of long poles or skids. As the timber thinned out at the river banks and the sawyers moved further into the scrub, transport became difficult.

It was at this stage that the bullock teams became essential for dragging sawn logs to the loading stations, or to the waters edge for floating down to the depots...

Part 6 - Tough days of Cedar-Getters; Rape of the Forests

A typical cedar-cutter's home was a tent-hut thatched with the fan-like leaves of the cabbage-tree, open at one end, with a fire in front.

The hard. tiring work in constant shade made the men become "as pallid as corpses," and the hard rations of salt-junk, flour, tea and sugar did little to relieve the monotony of life.

Relief from the monotony came every three or four months when the sawyers rafted their logs to the Settlement for sale to the dealers.

Replenishment of food and clothing supplies was their first consideration on these excursions but the principal object seems to have been to embark on an orgy of drinking.

Rum and a variety of wine known as "black rap" were readily obtainable at the groghouses and stores. Bentley's store. Established on the north side of the river, at "the Settlement" (Grafton ) in February.1841, was the first to cater for these wild vicious habits which became so much a feature of the cedar-getters in the early years.

"It was no uncommon circumstance for a cask of rum to be rolled out and the liquor dispensed in pannikinfuls. Men became mad from the effect of the type of liquor that was available, or helplessly intoxicated and the person who refused to partake in the orgy was grossly insulted. and his presence was regarded as undesirable."….

There is little doubt that the cedar-getters, in their haste to get the timber while it was available, literally butchered the forests and wrought havoc by destroying young trees in order to get at the big ones.

This destructive habit of he cedar- getters has frequently been used by writers condemning these pioneers. But looking at it from the safe distance of a century, it is obvious that the trees had to go sooner or later to make way for the development of towns and farm-lands. Twenty-five years after the first "cedar-rush" the fires of the farmers did more extensive damage to the trees than did the axes and saws of the cedargetters- and "damage" is a questionable word in any case…

Part 7 - Pioneering of Pastoralists

THE occupation of the vast areas of the Clarence Valley by the squatters forms the nucleus of a fascinating story of pioneering under difficult conditions.

It deals with sweat and toil in sub-tropical heat, of ravages by hostile tribes of natives who resented the intrusion of the whites and refused to recognise their flocks and herds as "private property," of success and the accumulation of great fortunes as the pageant of Australian development came to include this immensely wealthy area in the general story of progress and change.

The tremendous expansion of the wool industry had caused changes in land policy which reflected government recognition of faits accompli beyond its control...

Such a recognition of a fait accompli was the Squatting Act of 1839 entitled “ AN Act to further restrain the unauthorized occupation of Crown Lands and to provide the mans of defraying the expense of a Border Police” (Act 2 Vict. No 27)

It was under the terms of this Act that the pastoral occupation of the lands of the Clarence Valley was mode…. Briefly the terms of this Act provided for the taking out of grazing leases for 10 pounds per annum plus an assessment charge of one half-penny per head of horned cattle and threepence per head for horse.

These rentals and charges were to be collected, half-yearly by a Crown Lands Commissioner who was appointed “to exercise a control over the very numerous grazing establishments, and to prevent collision between the men in charge of such establishments and the aborigines of the country”.

The Act divided the lands beyond the "limits of location" into nine Pastoral Districts, including Port Macquarie which was placed under the charge of Commissioner Henry Oakes.

This district included Port Macquarie and all the North Coast of New South Wales, known and unknown, and the task of policing it was clearly impossible for the elderly Major Oakes. Not until Oliver Fry succeeded him at the end of 1842 was the policing of the Act carried out efficiently…