The Ancient Corroboree Ground at Wickham (N.S.W.)

[Corroboree at Newcastle / oil painting by Joseph Lycett] Courtesy of State Library of NSW

[Corroboree at Newcastle / oil painting by Joseph Lycett] Courtesy of State Library of NSW

The Ancient Corroboree Ground at Wickham (N.S.W.)
by Gionni Di Gravio

Many have wondered about the beautiful and evocative oil painting by Joseph Lycett of the moonlight Corroboree at Newcastle. From where in Newcastle was it painted? Some have surmised the location to be somewhere along the Honeysuckle foreshore, perhaps even the area around Civic Park.

But thanks to a recent chain of email enquiries, another lost piece of the Aboriginal jigsaw has possibly fallen into place, with the identification of the Wickham Corroboree ground.

An enquirer had asked whether Wickhams’s Tree of Knowledge had any connections to local Aboriginal people. Not knowing whether it did or not, I posted a question on the Lost Newcastle Facebook group and learn’t that the tree was probably one of a series of plantings of the Hannell Family, and that it had later been the resting place of many drunks, both white and black, that would regale stories to passersby, and talk about the meaning of life. Hence its nickname as the “Tree of Knowledge”.

In early January I received another email from a researcher attempting to find out any information relating to the discovery of two infant Aboriginal burials in the vicinity of Maryville. This was accompanied by a 1963 newsclipping he had located in Local Studies, Newcastle Public Library. After providing some information about what I knew about Aboriginal burial customs, and the ancient topography, I read the article which provided information about the discovery of middens in the area, as well as the reminiscences of a former Wickham resident Mrs Farnham relating to a local Aboriginal tribe.

The 1963 article names her as “Miss Mary Farnham”, but they may have had her age confused with that of her mother, Mrs. Janet Farnham (also referred to as “Mrs. Joseph Farnham”) who did live to her 93rd year. Mary died in 1947 aged 82 years. She was born in 1865, the year that her mother married and moved to Wickham. The article describes how she:

“recalled having watched with her father, aboriginal corroborees in bushland now occupied by the St James’ Church of England, Wickham. In an interview, she told of how the blacks spent much of their day spearing and catching fish with tidal traps in a low lying area between Maryville and Carrington.” – NMH&MA 25th July 1963

Who “she” was is a little confusing from the story. As Janet’s father died when she was five years old in 1847, she couldn’t have described watching the corroboree with “her father”. Mary, the daugher, was born in 1865, and so could have witnessed a corroboree with her father, but could not have been interviewed in 1963. I have not located an interview with Mary published prior to 1947.

We have, however, managed to track down the original reminiscences of Mrs Janet Farnham published in the Newcastle Morning Herald on Saturday 28th July 1934 p.5 just prior to her 92nd birthday in August. It describes a corroboree held in 1852 that she witnessed (aged 10 years) on the grounds (now occupied at the time of 1934) by St James’ Church:

“Just over 200 yards from where Mrs. Farnham now lives, at Holland-street, Wickham, aboriginal corroborees were once held. She visited Newcastle for the first time when about 10 years old, and, although it was a hurried visit, it was very interesting. Great excitement prevailed in town that day because a piccaninny had been born at the aborigines’ camp, which was situated where St. James’ Anglican Church now stands. To celebrate this all-important occasion, the blacks decided to hold a corroboree. Mrs. Farnham and her friends, with many residents of Newcastle, were privileged to witness the ceremony.

Location of 2 Holland St former residence of Mrs Janet Farnham (1897 map overlay in Google by Gionni Di Gravio)

Location of 2 Holland St former residence of Mrs Janet Farnham (1897 map overlay in Google by Gionni Di Gravio)

Location of St James' Church in Dixon St (in 1897) now Church St (2013) (Overlay by Gionni Di Gravio)

Location of St James’ Church in Dixon St (in 1897) now Church St (2013)
(Overlay by Gionni Di Gravio)

Describing the camp, Mrs. Farnham said that it was a huge clearing, surrounded by a dense forest of trees and thick undergrowth. The floor was covered with sea shells. The only approach was a single track, which was guarded at both ends by sentinels. A roaring fire was burning in the centre of the clearing, and around it the blacks performed their weird dances. Some were painted with ochre in grotesque fashion. After the ceremony, a huge feast was indulged in, and the spectators were invited to participate. Some, braver than the others, did so, and afterwards remarked that “although the food did not look tempting, it tasted good.”” – NMH&MA 28th July 1934 p.5

If another article date 1939 she is again quoted in support of evidence of ancient streams in the district:

Further proof of the existence of underground streams was supplied by Mrs. Janet Farnham prior to her death at Wickham about four years ago at the age of 95. She recalled that aborigines held their corroborees on the present site of St. James’ Church 90 years ago because they could dance near to the water gods underneath. – NMH&MA, 22 June 1939, p. 8

If the account is correct then this corroboree ground, 200 yards from her home in Holland St, would have encompassed a huge clearing taking in the Aboriginal camp located at the corner of Church Street and Hannell Street, and everything in between, around a block. Another possibility is an area adjacent to her house in Holland Street and across the rail corridor.

Compare the Lycett painting at the top, with this painting by Alfred Sharpe, which decorated the Illuminated Address To Alderman John Gilbert Ex. Mayor of Wickham (1894). (Thanks to Sue Ryan at Local Studies Newcastle Region Library for supplying an excellent scan of this work).

Illuminated address presented to John Gilbert, former Mayor of Wickham, 1894 (Courtesy of Local Studies, Newcastle Region Library)

Illuminated address presented to John Gilbert, former Mayor of Wickham, 16th October 1894 (Courtesy of Local Studies, Newcastle Region Library)

At the base of the painting, in pen is the annotation, “View from Tower of A.J.S. Bank Wickham.”. This is the location cited at the corner of Hannell and Charlton Streets, taking in the view of the Cottage Creek cemetery, as well as City Arcade.

Location of A.J.S. Bank, from whose Tower the painting was made taking in Cottage Creek cemetery grounds and City Arcade, 1897 (Overlay by Gionni Di Gravio)

Location of A.J.S. Bank, from whose Tower the painting was made taking in Cottage Creek cemetery grounds and City Arcade, 1897 (Overlay by Gionni Di Gravio)

Janet Farnham’s description,  as well as the view of Lycett painting, and Alfred Sharpe’s painting, do provide a nice fit to support the theory that the Lycett painting was taken from the vantage point of the Wickham corroboree ground.

Photograph of site from the Church Street harbour front (Courtesy of Dr Ann Hardy 2014)

Photograph of site from the Church Street harbour front (Courtesy of Dr Ann Hardy 2014)

Notes on orientations and sight lines (Drawn by Warren Hardy)

Notes on orientations and sight lines (Drawn by Warren Hardy)

Notes on orientations and sight lines (Drawn by Warren Hardy)

Notes on orientations and sight lines (Drawn by Warren Hardy)

To a certain degree, this information adds a new dimension to explaining why the old Aboriginal men sat and congregated under the Tree of Knowledge.  It was only a stone’s throw down the road from the original Aboriginal camp, and corroborree ground, that had existed at that location up until the building of St James’ Church in 1871. We know from Mrs Farnham’s account that at least one corroborree was held there in 1852. Her observations of the Aboriginal people were based upon her reminiscences of living in Wickham, since permanently moving there, after she married in 1865. As Wickham grew, and the mines came, the Aboriginal people were moved off, and their sacred corroboree grounds now used for other purposes. If we believe that people who play soccer or football or other sports deserve a place to practice their past-times, then surely it must also be fair that an ancient culture, and its people also have a right for their sacred and cultural areas to be protected in perpetuity. It would be a good thing if in the next hundred or so years, these corroboree grounds be returned to cultural practice. It remains to see what other physical as well as documentary evidence of early human habitation come to light in years to come, in the forms of shell deposits, tools and human remains.

Images and Transcriptions of all Newclippings

Newcastle Morning Herald 25th July 1963 Located by Rob Kyte in Local Studies, Newcastle Public Library

Newcastle Morning Herald 25th July 1963 Located by Rob Kyte in Local Studies, Newcastle Public Library

Ancient Eating Ground
Newcastle Morning Herald & Miners’ Advocate 25th July 1963 p.6
(Ref: Located by Rob Kyte in Local Studies, Newcastle Public Library. Transcribed by Gionni Di Gravio 19/1/2014 )

Railway clerical workers at Port Waratah Locomotive Depot believe they have accidentally stumbled on to an ancient eating ground of an aboriginal tribe that once roamed the foreshores of Throsby Creek.

In recent weeks heavy rain has revealed big deposits of broken shells obviously broken and cleaned for their contents.

Clusters of whitish shell pieces have been found over a wide area, beginning with a huge mound near the corner of King and Gross Streets and extending to the low, flat areas on railway property in King-street.

The more important find has thumb-worn hand tools close to the heaps containing thousands of shells.

Cutting Edges

These tools, mostly fined down from a hard, dull green and brown shale rock, have a also been found over a scattered area.

They vary in size and shape, and all have cutting or pointed edges indicating use to open shells.

Other ancient tools found in the area include polished barbs and a stone axe-head.

Till the heavy rain this year, the presence of the shell clusters and tools had not been suspected though it was known that the foreshores of the creek at Wickham and Carrington were the haunt of at least one aboriginal tribe.

Most of the tools, some of which were found this week, are called scrapers, and they fit comfortably into the shallow area of most shells found.

Tribe Recalled

Support for the belief that the area is an ancient aboriginal eating ground is the known practice of gins collecting shellfish for their menfolk and heaping them at selected spots for cleaning and serving.

This foreshore was once covered by relatively shallow tidal water and abounded with shellfish.

The tribe remained in this area till about 1840, about which time the first borings were taken to locate seams of Borehole coal.

The life of this tribe was recalled many years ago by one of Newcastle’s pioneering families, the Farnhams, who settled in Wickham about 120 years ago.

Miss Mary Farnham, when aged 93, recalled having watched with her father, aboriginal corroborees in bushland now occupied by the St James’ Church of England, Wickham.

In an interview, she told of how the blacks spent much of their day spearing and catching fish with tidal traps in a low lying area between Maryville and Carrington.

Further proof of the long existence of this tribe along the foreshores was found by mine surveyors and engineers when sinking test shafts in the same area.

About 100 years ago, attempts were made to seek suitable locations for collieries in the Wickham-Maryville area, but it was not till about 20 years later that shafts were safely sunk.

Used Tar

During excavation in one part of Maryville, nearing the boundary of Tighe’s Hill, the remains of two infants were found bound in a broad type of rush and sealed with tar.

Geologists have since confirmed ample coal was to be found along the foreshores of Throsby Creek in Newcastle’s early days.

There is no reason, they said, to doubt that these aborigines found how to extract tar from coal and use it for domestic purposes.

Because of this, it is also believed that this tribe cooked more of its food that most aborigines did.

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Newcastle Morning Herald & Miners' Advocate , Saturday 17 February 1940, page 16

Newcastle Morning Herald & Miners’ Advocate , Saturday 17 February 1940, page 16


BLACKS HELD CORROBOREE AS
THEIR “BLESSING”
Foundation Stone Ceremony at St. James‘s 68 Years Ago
[Newcastle Morning Herald & Miners' Advocate , Saturday 17 February 1940, page 16]

SIXTY-EIGHT years ago-Saturday, February 17, 1872 – Bishop William Tyrrell laid the foundation-stone of St. James‘s Church of England, Wickham. The day was extremely hot.

The ceremony, which began at 4 p.m., opened with the singing of the 145th Psalm. Mr. James Hannell, first Member of Parliament for Newcastle, read the “document of authorisation,” then placed it on the foundation-stone. After declaring the stone “well and truly laid,” the Bishop read the Belief (Creed), which was said by those present. He offered prayers and delivered an address. Then, according to the account in the “Newcastle Morning Herald,” the gathering quietly dispersed.

The highlight of this historic event for the Anglicans of the newly-formed parish was the corroboree given by aborigines at night. The church was built on their camping ground, which they relinquished in favour of the white men’s “Great Spirit.” In the presence of many church people, they executed several tribal and religious dances, as a blessing to the new building, amid the flickering light of camp fires. A feast followed, for which fish was the chief item on the menu.

The building committee comprised Revs. F. D. Bode and John Dixon. Messrs. J. Hannell, A. Cotton, J. D. Langley, W. A. Hutchinson, J. Hubbard, J. Clarkson, W. Holmes, T. Elliott. J. Gordon, J. Holmes, G. Callow, R. Trindle, J. Frouhame, J. Holmes, sen., F. Norman. Jr. J. Blackhouse was the architect and Mr. T. Smith the contractor.

The new church was not built without opposition, for the first incumbent (Rev. J. Dixon) concluded his first annual re port of 1873 as follows: “I thank those who have been friendly to our work; and we are also indebted to those who have been unsympathetic. Because of the latter we have entered our work with increased energy and greater watchfulness.” Many parishioners opposed the erection of the church because “it was in the bush and too far from the town.”

A Large Parish

The first parish of Wickham was a large one and comprised Onebygamba (Carrington), and the townships of The Foley, Islington, Waratah, Hanbury, Hexham, Woodford, the Islands of the Hunter, Lambton, Merewether, Toronto, Teralba, Rathmmies, Cooronbong, and several small places near the Hawklesbury. The clergy were Revs. Dixon (incumbent), D. Rutledge and G. McIntosh (assistant ministers), and Messrs. Walter Tollis (later Archdeacon Tollis), and W. J. James (candidates for Holy Orders).

Mr. J. Dangar gave the land – two acres – for the church and rectory. Before the church was built services were held under two Moreton Bay Fig trees, which are still to be seen on the vacant land opposite Wickham School.

Mr. Dixon was a pioneering minister. He rode a horse to visit his parishioners, and often was away from Wickham for six weeks on his parish rounds. When he was offered the charge of St. Paul’s. West Maitland, Wickham parishioners petitioned the Bishop to allow him to re main, but a few years later he was re moved to Sydney, where he became an archdeacon.

Mr. J. D. Langley had an interesting career. After several years as a lay reader at St. James‘s, he resigned his position as a bank officer to be ordained. He eventually succeeded his brother, Henry Langley, as Bishop of Bendigo.

Mr. Dixon was succeeded by Canon William Swindlehurst in 1888. Canon Swindlehurst’s ministry in the parish lasted 21 years. The present pulpit was built in his memory.

Rev. W. F. James, who was associated with the parish for several years, interested himself in the Missions for Seamen. His name became a byword along the Newcastle waterfront.

The first child baptised at St. James‘s -a Mr. Holmes – is still living, as also are Mesdames Mawley, Nutall and Geary – three sisters who were born at the same house in the parish more than 80 years ago. There are families of four generation still living in the parish, and children and grandchildren of the first church members are now active workers for the church. A few of the very old parishioners can remember the laying of the foundation-stone. One is Miss Mary Farnham, whose mother died about four years ago at the age of 95. A stained window, costing £200, was placed in the front of the church in her memory.

The present Rector (Rev. D. T. Rees) succeeded Rev. A. W. Moore last June. Mr. Moore took charge of Mr. Rees’s former parish at Dungog. Mr. Rees is a native of Newcastle.

Special services will be held at the weekend. Choral Communion will be celebrated at 8 o’clock and Family Eucharist at 11 o’clock. The Dean of Newcastle (Very Rev. T. Armour) will preach at evensong at night. After that service the congregation will adjourn to the parish hall, where Mr. George Norman will speak on the early history of the church.

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UNDERGROUND STREAM AND TUNNELS
Is Wickham Faced With a Subsidence Problem?
[Ref: Newcastle Morning Herald & Miners' Advocate (NSW : 1876 - 1954) , Thursday 22 June 1939, page 8]

Whether a certain portion of Wickham is soon to be faced with a subsidence problem has been troubling residents who live in and about the southern end of Hannell-street.

Underneath most of the area concerned are tunnels from the old Maryville Colliery or subterranean streams. Most of it is low-lying, particularly sections which during the past 50 years have been reclaimed at various intervals.

Recent subsidences in some dwellings in Hannell-street, the collapse of a newly-constructed petrol storage tank a few years ago, when the sand foundation sank without warning, and a quick fall-in of about 20 feet of the sand embankment being used as part of the reclamation scheme along Throsby Creek to a depth of 10 feet on Tuesday night, are stated to be reasons why serious trouble is likely to be experienced in the near future. It is believed that seepage, mainly caused by heavy spring tides, is the cause of subsidence in all three instances.

Swamps and Streams

The history of the reclamation of the swamp areas of Wickham, Maryville and Linwood is interesting. Perhaps no other part of the Newcastle district has been confronted with the same problem, with the possible exception of Carrington, where, however, many swamps in the early days were filled in with the solid foundation of ships’ ballast. About 60 years ago the foreshores of Throsby Creek formed a mouth for numbers streams and swamps, which covered a large portion of Wickham East. Some streams ran through areas which have since been raised, though not to a large degree. Evidence of this was found in several streets when sewer pipes and water connections were being laid. Once stream continued down Throsby-street to Wickham Park, where a large swamp remained until about five years ago. These swamps were by no means shallow; in places they were six, seven and eight feet deep. One spot was popularised as a swimming hole, where boys dived off a nearby tree. All these existed before the advent of the three pits which were later opened at Maryville and Carrington.

In those days the existence of subterranean streams was known; in fact, it was generally felt that much of the land around the waterfront would not be used for residential purposes. When the mining boom arrived at Carrington in later years – pits were sunk, firstly, on the site now occupied by the timber mills near Carrington Bridge, and later at the Dyke – land was reclaimed and homes were built to accommodate the influx of miners and their families. Both Wickham and Carrington grew. Wickham Council, realising the possible development of the municipality, undertook reclamation and drainage schemes.

With this progress houses appeared on the eastern side of Hannell-street, all of which have been demolished to make way for wharves, wool-stores and an oil pumping plant.

Church Undermined

The Bullock Island Company began operations about 60 years ago. The tunnels were not confined to Carrington and the immediate vicinity of the foreshores; instead, they extended under Throsby Creek into Wickham until Hannell-street was reached, and then continued towards the railway-station. But a halt was made when St. James’ Church of England was reached, not because the company deemed it not a financial proposition, but because the church authorities obtained an order from the Government. Inquiries revealed that the tunnels were, in some places, only about 12 feet under the surface. This closeness had caused the Church grounds to subside in places and the brick building to crack in the interior and around two walls. Large cracks which can still be seen in the building, testify to the extent which the land sank. When the mine closed, water filled the empty tunnels.

Further proof of the existence of underground streams was supplied by Mrs. Janet Farnham prior to her death at Wickham about four years ago at the age of 95. She recalled that aborigines held their corroborees on the present site of St. James’ Church 90 years ago because they could dance near to the water gods underneath.

Tunnels of the old Maryville colliery were spread in many directions, and covered areas near a part of Downie street, at the northern end of Hannell-street, and where many of the petrol storage tanks have been erected on the flat in recent years. Part of this area is now known as the “basin”, where the Greater Newcastle Council is now trying to give relief to the flooding in convenience caused by tidal waters.

Sand Wall Collapses

For the past five years the Public Works Department has been dredging the channel section of Throsby Creek from the mangrove swamp to Carrington Bridge and reclaiming the mud flats along the foreshores. For this work a pumping plant has been used to raise the levels of the flats and fill the hollows with sand and silt. As the work proceeds, a sand retaining wall, with mangrove trees as a foundation, is built. This is later made into a stone-pitched embankment after the water has been pumped from the flat and sand pumped in. On Tuesday night a strip of about 20 feet long fell in downwards to a depth of nearly 10 feet. It was not a wash-away, which are often  caused by lapping tides; it was a definite subsidence. The drop, it was stated, was attributed to the seepage caused by the spring tides, which are now at their peak.

Tenants of a terrace houses at the end of Hannell-street have also felt slight subsidences. One householder explained that a drop in the ground, which was always damp, had been noticed since the channel, immediately opposite the buildings, had been dredged. Cracks had appeared in some parts of the building, and in others wood beading had moved from the brickwork.

A former mining engineer explained that the dredging could disturb the underground streams and cause excessive seepage, probably sufficient to cause the walls of the underground streams to collapse. This could result in subsidence. Seepage also could result from the action of the spring tides. If the smallest opening were provided in the foreshores, the terrific pressure of the harbour could force water underground and possibly and possibly link it up with a running stream or an old mine tunnel. When the oil tank had collapsed at Wickham several years ago tidal waters were at their highest. This could have been a coincidence, but it was just as likely that the water could have been forced into some weak spot.

In Hannell-street a few houses have tilted over at a slight angle due to subsidence. Wickham Council Chambers has sunk a few inches in recent years.

The highest of all tides – the king tide – will not flow until the middle of next month. At present the spring tides are flooding the low-lying sections of Wickham. last night the water rose in streets to the highest level for years. Albert-street received a larger amount of water than usual.

Trove: http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article134183670
Transcribed by Gionni Di Gravio 19/1/2014

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OBITUARY
MRS. J. FARNHAM
Wickham Pioneer’s Death

[Ref: Newcastle Morning Herald & Miners Advocate 4 September 1934 p.9]

The last surviving person of the first five families to reside at Wickham, Mrs. Joseph Farnham, who celebrated her 92nd birthday last month died in the early hours of yesterday morning. Mrs. Farnham had lived in Wickham for nearly 70 years and had enjoyed good health up till the last few weeks. She retained her faculties to the end.

Mrs. Farnham was born at Horseshoe bend, West Maitland, in 1842. Her parents migrated from Scotland five years prior to her birth. Her memory was remarkably clear, and incidents of the early convict days at Maitland, and sidelights of early Newcastle history, which she recalled, were published a few weeks ago. She was an active worker for, and had a life long association with, St. James’ Church, the foundation stone of which she saw laid 62 years ago. She and her husband contributed coins, which were placed in a bottle and put under the stone. Despite her great age, Mrs Farnham was very virile, and only three weeks ago she planted a tree in connection with the 62nd patronal festival of St James’ Church. She is survived by one daughter, Mary, and two sons, John and Joseph.

The funeral will take place from St James’ Church, Wickham, this afternoon.

Trove: http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/134817441
Transcribed: Gionni Di Gravio 19/1/2014

_________________________________

WICKHAM PIONEER
Mrs. Joseph Farnham’s
Long Life

ASSOCIATION WITH ST. JAMES’ CHURCH

[Ref: Newcastle Morning Herald & Miners Advocate 28th July 1934 p.5]

Mrs. Joseph Farnham, of Wickham, will celebrate her 92nd birthday next month. She relates many vivid stories of the pioneering days, from three-quarters to half a century ago. Despite her great age, she is still remarkably virile. Although she is slightly deaf, her others senses and faculties are acute, and she carries her age well. She was born at Horseshoe Bend, West Maitland, in August 1842. Her parents migrated from Glasgow, Scotland, five years prior to her birth. Her mother came out in the Bonny Duncaster, and her father on another famous sailing vessel, Light of Age. The trip affected the health of her father, William Alexander Grant, and he died five years later, at the age of 28, and was buried in the old East Maitland Presbyterian Cemetery.

One could almost hear the clanking of the chains and hoarse shouts of the warders as Mrs. Farnham graphically described her first sight of convicts. She was only a child then, but can remember seeing the manner in which the unfortunates were treated. Her mother often told her of the life they led. They were yoked up in gangs, and had to build roads, with gravel procured from the river. If they answered back, or even murmured, they were subjected to the fury of the warders, who thrashed them with long lashes, and were liable to similar treatment if they did not reply to statements directed to them.

Mrs. Farnham says that it is only by comparing the practices of those days with the present that one realises the great work which has been performed for the country by humanitarian reformers.

WHEN BULLOCK WAS ROASTED

Mr. Farnham drove the first railway engine to Maitland. This was indeed a great day for the township. There was great excitement everywhere, and the formal opening ceremony of the railway, which was attended with much pomp and splendour, was performed by Governor Carrington. Nearly every resident of Maitland and the surrounding districts was present. The celebration was concluded with the roasting of a large bullock in the park, suspended in a sling, and from it huge slices were cut by the public.

Another exciting incident Mrs. Farnham recalled was the shooting of Prince Albert, about 84 years ago. He had just been returning from a demonstration of horse-back riding, when a man rushed out from a thicket, confronted the Prince, and then shot him through the shoulder. Immediately the incensed people surged around the assailant, and it was only the heroic efforts of the soldiers and mounted police that prevented the man from wing lynched. Under heavy escort, he was taken to gaol, and later tried; found guilty, and sentenced to life imprisonment. He died in prison.

Just over 200 yards from where Mrs. Farnham now lives, at Holland-street, Wickham, aboriginal corroborees were once held. She visited Newcastle for the first time when about 10 years old, and, although it was a hurried visit, it was very interesting. Great excitement prevailed in town that day because a piccaninny had been born at the aborigines’ camp, which was situated where St. James’ Anglican Church now stands. To celebrate this all-important occasion, the blacks decided to hold a corroboree. Mrs. Farnham and her friends, with many residents of Newcastle, were privileged to witness the ceremony.

Describing the camp, Mrs. Farnham said that it was a huge clearing, surrounded by a dense forest of trees and thick undergrowth. The floor was covered with sea shells. The only approach was a single track, which was guarded at both ends by sentinels. A roaring fire was burning in the centre of the clearing, and

Mrs. Farnham

Mrs. Farnham

around it the blacks performed their weird dances. Some were painted with ochre in grotesque fashion. After the ceremony, a huge feast was indulged in, and the spectators were invited to participate. Some, braver than the others, did so, and afterwards remarked that “although the food did not look tempting, it tasted good.”

THREE SHOPS IN CITY

At the age of 23, when married, Mrs. Farnham came to Newcastle to live, and chose Wickham as her place of residence. For two years she lived near what is now Railway-street: and later moved to Holland street, and has remained there ever since. Her house, built by her husband, who died 23 years ago, is of brick. There were only five houses in Wickham then, their occupants being the Ledgerwood, Walsh, Hole, Jordan, and Millhorn families.

Mrs. Farnham said that there were only three shops in Hunter-street. They were conducted by Mr. Broughton (grocer), Mr. Tom Ingall (draper), and Mr. Higgenbottom (butcher). There was no road leading to the city, only a bush track, where the railway line now is. Sometimes when going to the city Mrs. Farnham would receive a lift from the navvies in trollies. There were no houses in Hunter-street from where the old coal bridge stood until Honeysuckle station was reached. There a few houses of the railway men who worked at the railway workshops were erected. The shops were surrounded by much scrub and bush.

Mrs. Farnham’s husband bought some land, which he cleared for building purposes, before he settled in Newcastle. After their residence at Railway-street for two years, during which the house in Holland-street was built, a slaughter house was planned, but was not erected until some years later where the public school now stands. Mr White was the owner. Wickham was then a mass of swamp and forest. Boys used to catch fish from water six feet deep where the park is now situated. In later years this area was filled in. A track for driving the bullocks to the slaughter house was cleared in front of her house. Once a fiery bull escaped, and provided an exciting hunt for the men. For three days he evaded capture, which was effected by a burst of rifle fire from the hunters.

All at once Wickham began to grow, and in 1868 there were over 100 residences in the area. Most of the people were interested in Church work, and the first Anglican services were conducted in Mrs. Critchley’s home in Throsby-street by Rev. John Dixon, who later became the first incumbent of St. James’. The congregation sat on forms. Mr. Dixon brought a small hand organ, which he played himself. Visitors from Newcastle and Hanbury attended the services, which were held morning, afternoon, and night. Mrs. Farnham remembers the laying of the foundation stone of St. James’ Church in 1873. The day was terrifically hot. She and her husband, a warden, put coins in the bottle which was put under the stone.

Photograph and Floor Plan of the former St James' Church Wickham (Courtesy of Anglican Diocese Archivesm Cultural Collections (UoNCC)

Photograph and Floor Plan of the former St James’ Church Wickham as at August 1920 (Courtesy of Anglican Diocese Archives Cultural Collections (UoNCC)

THUNDERBOLT REMINISCENCE

Cappersotti, the Italian who gave information to the police concerning the outlaw, Thunder bolt, was a boarder in the Holland-street house. A few years after this event, Capersotti returned to Wickham, and told Mrs. Farnham the incidents of this exciting episode. The Italian, who frequently travelled up and down the North Coast, recognised Thunderbolt at a hotel on the night before his death. Next day, while on his way again saw the outlaw, who, this time, was reclining against a tree trunk, fast asleep. Capersotti hastily returned to town, where he notified the police. For this information he received half the reward for the apprehension of Thunderbolt.

Mrs. Farnham was present at the first miners’ picnic, held at Shepherd’s Hill, Newcastle. This outing was marred by the tragic death of a man who was blown to pieces. A big bonfire had been lit, and did not appear to burn too well. The man got up a ladder to make an inspection, and when half-way up the whole thing blew up.

Mrs. Farnham said that Holland-street was named by her husband, after the place of his birth, which was Holland-street, Hampton Hackney, London.

Mr. Farnham took a prominent part in public life. He was a foundation member of the Protestant Alliance and Grand Oddfellows’ Friendly Societies. He was Secretary of the Hamilton branch of the former for 39 years, and held the same office in the Honeysuckle lodge of the latter for 15 years. For 15 years he was a gunner of the Naval Brigade, which was successful in winning a first prize in Sydney on the occasion of a visit by the Royal Squadron about 40 years ago. On his retirement from the railways, after 39 years’ service as a machinist, he was the guest of honour at several presentation functions.

Mrs. Farnham, until three years ago, was a regular attendant to her church, and was at the Communion service at Christmas, 1932. Miss Mary Farnham, a daughter, and Mr. John Farnham, live with her. Another son, Joseph, lives in Sydney. To-morrow Mrs. Farnham will add a little more to the history of St James’ Church by planting a pine tree in the grounds.

Trove: http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article135121922
Transcribed by Gionni Di Gravio 19/1/2014

UPDATE – 24th February 2014

Thanks to Lynette Hutchings who sent in this find from TROVE detailing the Pioneer Memories of Mrs C. Newling at 96, who states in the account that “There was an aborigines’ camp at Wickham, on the site of Goninan’s workshops.” (Newcastle Morning Herald & Miners’ Advocate, 25th July 1931, p.14) Original article: http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article139615453

Newcastle Morning Herald & Miners' Advocate, 25th July 1931, p.14 (Thanks to Lynette Hutchings)

Newcastle Morning Herald & Miners’ Advocate, 25th July 1931, p.14 (Thanks to Lynette Hutchings)

And to Mr Russell Rigby who has created a panorama of the area of Wickham circa 1906, showing the location of the Goninans Workshops

Wickham Panorama Circa 1906.

Wickham Panorama Circa 1906.

MEDIA

The Ancient Corroboree Ground At Wickham (1233 ABC Newcastle Radio)

 Online “Wickham Aboriginal Corroboree Site Located” by Matthew Kelly 21st January 2014 (Newcastle Herald)

Online “Wickham Corroboree site – Transcripts of Herald Reports” 21st January 2014 (Newcastle Herald)

"History peeled. mystery revealed" by Matthew Kelly Newcastle Herald 22nd January 2014 pages 2-3

“History peeled. mystery revealed” by Matthew Kelly Newcastle Herald 22nd January 2014 pages 2-3

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