Sunday, January 24

Australia day 26th January

For Australia Day this year we plan a double celebration as it coincides with a number of birthdays including my own the day before. Its a time I am reminded of my ancestors toil who were amongst the first pioneers in the northern coastal areas of NSW which seemed to act as magnet on both sides of my family tree. 

My great great Grandfather Patrick John Byrnes was convicted and sentenced to death in Cork Assizes in Ireland for highway robbery on the 12th March 1836. Fortunately for both of us his plea for clemency was granted by the sentencing Judge and he was subsequently transported as a convict to NSW, for life, on the convict ship the "Captain Cook". After serving a period of convict labour he was subsequently pardoned in 1846 and granted what was known as a “ticket of leave”. In 1848 he married Emma Howell in Sydney before moving to the Nambucca region in northern NSW, an area abundant in the highly prized unexploited cedar wood.

It is suggested in historian Norma Townsend’s book “Valley of the Crooked River” that Patrick and a friend by the name of James Cook moved to Nambucca, as part of a joint cedar getting plan.

Howell’s family may also have been influential since they were also cedar cutters which may have incentivised Patrick to undertake the perilous trek. Cedar then was regarded as Red Gold and ranked as Australia’s largest export.

His settlement was known as Congarrini which is an aboriginal word for fog and today it is a beautiful area dotted with a mixture of rural and residential style dwellings. There is a mixture of hobby farms interspersed between cattle and fruit and vegetable  commercial farms which is all complemented by ecologically driven tourism.      
My interest had been well served by my cousin who had undertaken extensive research into her family tree but this work was complemented some time ago by well known Australian actor Jack Thompson. Thompson is his adopted name and he appeared on the TV series “Who Do You Think You Are” to talk about his recently discovered biological family linked to the same John Patrick Byrnes.  
Prior to this revelation I was only aware of a few sketchy details known to a friend of mine who watched the show on TV and contacted me soon after. Subsequently I discovered Thompson was a distant cousin.

Hence I had all of Thompson’s research from the TV program including references to Tipperary in Ireland  which was home for John Patrick Byrnes  and where as a lad he had resorted to highway robbery to stay alive during an era of great poverty.

Not long afterwards a Royal Commission was formed to enquire into the reasons for the extreme poverty and exploitation of workers in Ireland at that time.
I also discovered many more details from Norma Townsend’s – Valley of the Crooked River, claiming he had come from England. He was able to acquire 295 acres of the better tracts of land whilst shrewdly avoiding marshy areas and fathered 7 children. 
He also established a pub/ general store located strategically at the stopover point where coaches changed horses in readiness for the next stage to the Bellinger River. He offered the best of fine tweeds to travellers wanting to look fashionable and also ran the punt across the River. 
According to Townsend he later was to claim to come from Rochdale in Lancaster, presumably to ensure a air of respectability. Another interesting point relates to Baptismal records showing the children baptised as both Protestant and Catholics. No doubt this reflected an unresolved underlying tension since they were married in a Protestant church but Patrick was buried as a Catholic.        
The next generations were also all involved in the cedar getting industry. My great grandfather fathered 15 children and both he and his wife managed to live on to a respectable age. Not only were the descendants all involved in the Cedar industry but their children married into families who in turn were heavily involved and all stayed within the one district on the North Coast of NSW between Ballina and Nambucca.  The roots to this area remained strong on both sides of my parent’s siblings. Many went on to live on to a ripe old age including my uncle Arnold Oliver Byrnes who died aged 99 just 5 days after his wife Dorothy to whom he was married an amazingly happy 79 years.
Turning to my Grandmothers side coincidentally they were also Cedar Getters residents of Ballina. Their story is recorded in local historical texts, as was the case of Charles Jarrett from 1849, known as the Cedar King since he purchased the biggest cedar tree ever felled, one that yielded 38,000 feet of timber. What a sacrilege, to cut down such majestic forestry giants!!

Jarrett went on to become the second mayor of Ballina in 1888 and his poetry, epitaphs and stories about the Richmond shire appeared in many publications. Within that family tree is also recorded a marriage to a scar faced convict whilst another’s mother was descended from royalty, but disinherited as she married a master mariner, considered to be well below her rank in life. His vessel was called “The Australasian League" which was recorded as being wrecked at the treacherous mouth of the Richmond River. From its discovery in 1828 the treacherous mouth was subject to shifting sand bars to become the graveyard to many ships just as many lives were lost. It was not until two breakwaters were constructed to better channel the river's flow in the early 1900s that the hazard diminished. Even today, viewing the bar one can readily imagine how easy it was for craft to capsize in the treacherous waters. On my Mothers side both grandparents were English migrants who also settled in Ballina.    


susan said...

Yours is a fascinating and rich family history, Lindsay. It's good you have such strong connections with the land of your birth. Personally, I don't know all that much about my own and it's far too late in the day to follow any leads that may still exist since my aunts and uncles have all passed away.

Among the many things that make me sad about the refugee crisis in Europe is that so many people there don't understand that most of the refugees would have preferred to stay at home.

Yes, it was sad to hear about that magnificent tree. As I'm sure you know, the same thing happened all over North America too. Come to think of it Europe and Britain were completely forested until shipbuilding went over the top.

All the best

Lindsay Byrnes said...

Hi Susan
Thanks for your interest and insightful comment.
Best wishes

brucew said...

HI Lindsay,
Could you please email me so I can email you? Bruce Waddell

gfid said...

Your roots go as as deep as that fated tree, Lindsay! I hope it continues to live on in whatever forms it took, and is appreciated... just as your ancestors live on through you and yours. A most pleasant read :0)

Lindsay Byrnes said...

Hi GfId
Indeed the longevity and extraordinary beauty of cedar wood when polished is unique. Some minor consolation for the destruction of theses forest giants, Best washes

gfid said...

In my summer 2015 trip to Haida Gwaii in the west coast of Canada I came upon a 'Grandmother' Cedar. She was estimated to be over 1200 years old! She remembers a world we humans know very little about.

Gary said...

Nice work, as always! And may I wish you a happy birthday. I understand it's the 10th anniversary of your 60th? Very good! I hope this is a year of feeling healthy, time with loved ones, continued generosity (yours), peace of mind...and some adventures too. Thinking of you from to you Lindsay.

Lindsay Byrnes said...

Thanks Gary and yes a few trips planned in Australia this year. Anne turns 70 in June !!.

Lindsay Byrnes said...

Hi Gfd
thanks for sharing that experience - to gaze at such a majestic giant and contemplate all that has transpired over its long lifetime must have been indeed a humbling experience.

♥ N o v a said...

Such a colorful and interesting family history you have. I have always wanted to know more about my own lineage, and fortunately, my relatives had a book printed in my country (Philippines) that chronicles the roots of the first known patriarch of my family.

With your great grandfather having sired 15 children, you would have a lot of relatives around you, I presume. Have you done any research about those family members -- meaning, are you in touch with any of their descendants?

Lindsay Byrnes said...

Hi Nova
It's wonderful you have such a book to chronicle the roots of your first known patriarch of your family in your home country. That must be very interesting and maybe worth posting about on your Blog ?
Apart from cousins and the odd news I hear about of Byrnes descendants I don't have any specific knowledge nor have I undertaken research - except I know a lot of them still live in that same area in northern NSW.
Best wishes