Discussions on the history and historiography of Australia's New England

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

History Revisited - Terrible Vale grows into expansive lot

QUITE THE FLOCK: There were 7827 sheep on Terrible Vale in the 1840s among 60 cattle, six horses and 26 human residents. 
I don't have a picture of the house William Tydd Taylor built for  his family. This is a much later slab and daub homestead.  
The house that William Tydd Taylor built for Margaretta and the children on Terrible Vale was a timber slab and bark home with some stone foundations built near the creek for easier access to water which had to be carted in barrels from a spring near the creek. Much of the washing was done in the creek itself.

To this point, I have been referring to the run as Terrible Valley, its original name. However, by the time I am writing about, the shortened form of the name seems to have come into popular use.

With the house finished, the family took the long dray trip from Port Macquarie over the ranges onto Terrible Vale. We do not know what the weather was like, the road was absolutely dreadful in wet periods, but it was probably quite exciting for the children if Annabella Boswell’s descriptions of similar trips as a child are any guide.

For Margaretta Taylor, the trip must have been more difficult, for she was leaving the civilisation of Port Macquarie for a remote place with no female companionship.

By 1844, Port Macquarie’s brief golden age was in decline as the penal colony began to wind down, but there were still the stores, church and the regular steamer connections with Sydney. There was still the regular social life centred in part on Lake Innes involving the army officers, the administrators, the merchants and the increasing number of free settlers who had made the Hastings Valley their home.

Margaretta was no stranger to the rigours of settler life. She had experienced that at Oakville, where she was often alone apart from the servants while William was working away on Terrible Vale. Still, there was a considerable difference between a world in which you could purchase supplies after a journey measured in hours, where you could order something from Sydney and expect it to be delivered in a few weeks, to one where the most basic supplies could take many weeks to arrive.

Terrible Vale itself had developed into a small settlement. When Commissioner George James Macdonald, Armidale’s founder and first poet, visited the run early in 1844, it had 30 European residents. There were four cottages and huts 90 acres under cultivation, 33 cattle, one horse and 5,714 sheep.

When the Commissioner visited eighteen months later, the number of residents had declined to 26, the area under cultivation had dropped to 18 acres, but stock numbers had grown rapidly. There were now 6 horses, 60 cattle and 7,827 sheep.

The small number of horses in these records always comes as a surprise, but horses had been in quite short supply for much of early colonial history. . Horses reproduce relatively slowly, so that even with imports they could be difficult to obtain. People walked rather than rode, often for very long distances.

At the end of 1844, Margaretta Taylor’s isolation was eased by a new arrival, one that will introduce another familiar Armidale name, Marsh.

Eliza (Elizabeth) Merewether had attended the same school as Margaretta. In 1844, she married Mathew Henry Marsh, the owner of the adjoining Salisbury run, coming to live with her new husband on Salisbury.

Taylor and Marsh knew each other. Now with Eliza’s arrival, a deep family friendship was formed. 
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 15 June 2016. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015, here for 2016.

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