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Basil and Cutter Murray: tigers and other travelling tales

Arthur ‘Cutter’ Murray reckoned that thylacines (Tasmanian tigers) followed him when he walked from Magnet to Waratah in the state’s far north-west—out of curiosity, rather than malicious intent. If he swung around suddenly he could catch a glimpse of one.[1] However, Cutter did better than that. In 1925 he caught a tiger alive and took it for a train ride to Hobart.

Tigers are just one element of the twentieth-century tale of Cutter and his elder brother Basil Murray. Yet for all their exploits these great high country bushmen started in poverty and rarely glimpsed anything better. Cutter married and produced a family, but his weakness all his working life was gambling: what he made on the possums (and tiger) he lost on the horses. Basil made enough money to keep the taxman guessing but was content to live out his days in a caravan behind Waratah’s Bischoff Hotel.[2]

Their ancestry was Irish Roman Catholic. Basil Francis Murray (1893–1971) was born to Emu Bay Railway ganger Edward James (Ted) Murray and Martha Anne Sutton. He was the couple’s ninth child. Arthur Royden Murray (1898–1987?) was the twelfth.[3]  Three more kids followed. The family lived at the fettlers’ cottages at the Fourteen Mile south of Ridgley while Ted Murray was a ganger, but in 1907 he became a bush farmer at Guildford, renting land from the Van Diemen’s Land Company (VDL Co).[4] Guildford, the junction of the main Emu Bay Railway line to Zeehan and the branch line to Waratah, had a station, licensed bar and state school, but was also a centre for railway workers, VDL Co timber cutters and hunters. Edward Brown, the so-called ‘Squire of Guildford’, dominated local activity.

Guildford Junction State School, with teacher May Wells at centre. From the Weekly Courier, 10 November 1906, p.24.

Squaring sleepers, splitting timber, hunting, fencing, scrubbing out bush, driving bullocks, herding stock, milking cows and setting snares were essential skills for a young man in this locality. Like others, the Murrays snared adjoining VDL Co land, paying the company a royalty. Several Murray boys escaped Guildford by serving in World War One, but Cutter recalled that his father would not let him enlist.[5] Basil also stayed home.[6] Perhaps it was enough for Ted and Martha Murray that they lost one son, Albert Murray, killed in action in France in 1916.[7]

Guildford Railway Station during the ‘great snow’, 1921. Winter photo, Weekly Courier, 18 August 1921, p.17.
Guildford Station under snow again, 24 September 1930. RE Smith photo, courtesy of the late Charles Smith.

Twenty-three-year-old Arthur Murray appears to have married Alice Randall in Waratah during the ‘great snow’ of August 1921. He would already have been a proficient bushman.  Cutter learned to use the treadle snare with a springer, although he would also employ a pole snare for brush possum and would shoot ringtails. He shot at night using acetylene light to illuminate the nocturnal ringtails, but he found it easier to go after them by day by poking their nests in the tea-tree scrub. ‘It was like shooting fish in a barrel’, Cutter’s son Barry Murray recalled. ‘It was only shooting as high as the ceiling … A little spar and you just shook it … and they’d come out, generally two, a male and a female …’[8] Hunters aimed for the nose so as to keep the valuable fur untainted.

In the bush Cutter lived so roughly that no one would work with him. Some tried, but none of them lasted.  His huts and skin sheds on the Surrey Hills were little more than a few slabs of bark. Friday was bath day, which meant a walk in Williams Creek (east of the old Waratah Cemetery), regardless of weather conditions. Cutter’s son Val once snared Knole Plain with him, but couldn’t keep up. Snares had to be inspected every day, the game removed, and the snares reset. Cutter and Val took snaring runs on opposite sides of the plain, but Val found that even if he ran the whole way and didn’t reset any snares, Cutter would be sitting waiting for him, having long completed his side.

Cutter’s most substantial skin shed was near home base, on the hill above the primary school at Waratah. Here he would smoke the skins before an open fire. He pegged them out both on the wall and on planks about eighteen inches wide, each plank long enough to accommodate three wallaby skins. When the sun shone, he took the laden planks outside; otherwise he sat inside the skin shed with his skins, chain smoking cigarettes in empathy. A skin shed had no chimney, the idea being that the smoke would brown the skins as it escaped through the cracks between the planks of the walls. The air was so black with smoke that Cutter was virtually invisible from the doorway.[9] Yet no carcinogens prevented him reaching his eighties.

Joe Fagan claimed that Basil Murray was such a good snarer that he once snared Bass Strait.[10] Basil preferred the simple necker snare to the treadle, and caught a tiger in such a device on Murrays Plain, a little plain above the 40 Mile mark on the railway named after Ted Murray.[11] Cutter caught a couple of three-quarters-grown tigers. One was taken dead in a treadle snare with a springer on Goderich Plain when Cutter was hunting with Joe Fagan.[12] Joe kept the skin for years as a rug, but when it grew moth-eaten he tossed it on the fire—oblivious to its rarity or future value.[13] Cutter caught the other thylacine alive in a treadle near Parrawe.[14]  He trussed her up and humped her home, where ‘a terrific number of people’ came for a look.[15]  ‘They’re very shy animals really, and quite timid’, he recalled of the captive female. ‘It behaved just like a dog and it got very friendly. But when a stranger came near it would squark at them.’[16] At first he couldn’t get her to eat. The breakthrough came when he skinned a freshly caught wallaby, rolled the carcase up in the skin with the fur on the inside, and fed it to the tiger while it was still warm.[17] In June 1925 ‘Murray bros, Waratah’ advertised a ‘Tasmanian Tiger (female)’ in the ‘For sale’ columns of the Examiner and Mercury newspapers.[18] Hobart’s Beaumaris Zoo offered £30 for it, prompting Cutter to deliver her by train. It was his only visit to Hobart. Four cruisers of the American fleet were in town, and Cutter recalled that ‘it was so crowded you could hardly move. I didn’t like it much’.[19]

Cutter tells his story, Mercury, 13 February 1973, p.12.

The other big event in Hobart at the time was the Adamsfield osmiridium rush, which ensnared Basil Murray. In the last quarter of 1925 he pocketed £126 from osmiridium, the equivalent of a year’s wage for a farmhand.[20] Later he spent six months mining a tin show alone at the Interview River. Having set the exact date he wanted to be picked up by boat at the Pieman River heads, Basil hauled out a ton of tin ore on his back, bit by bit.[21] On another occasion he worked a little gold show on the Heazlewood River, curling the bark of gum saplings to make a flume in order to bring water to the site.[22]

It was pulpwood cutting that gave Arthur Murray his nickname. When Associated Pulp and Paper Mills (APPM) started manufacturing paper at Burnie in 1938, it turned to Jack and Bern Fidler of Burnie company Forest Supplies Pty Ltd for pulpwood.[23] Over the next two decades Joe Fagan supplied about one-third of the pulpwood quota as a sub-contractor to the Fidlers. At a time when Mount Bischoff was a marginal provider for a few families, and osmiridium mining had fizzled out, Fagan became a significant employer, with about 65 men splitting barking and carting cordwood to the railway at Guildford for transport to Burnie.[24]

A good splitter would split about 3 cords of wood (a cord equals 128 cubic feet of timber) per day. Cutter held the record for the best daily effort, 8½ cords. Unlike most splitters, he never used an axe, but wedged off and split the billet into three pieces. Yet Cutter’s pulpwood stacking exasperated Joe Fagan. Unlike other men, Cutter did not stack his pulpwood as he went. Pulpwood cutters were paid according to the size of their stacks, and the large gaps in Cutter’s hasty, last-minute efforts ensured that he got paid for a bit more fresh air than he was entitled to. Kicking one such stack, Joe growled:

‘I don’t mind the rabbits goin’ through, Arthur, but I bloody well hate those bloody greyhounds behind them goin’ through the holes’.[25]

World War Two was a lucrative time for snarers. £15,000-worth of skins were auctioned at the Guildford Railway Station in 1943, while more than 32,000 skins were offered there in the following year.  Record prices were paid at what was probably the last annual Guildford sale in 1946.[26] Taking advantage of high demand, the VDL Co dispensed with the royalty payment system and made the letting of runs its sole hunting revenue. One party of three hunters was reported to have presented about three tons of prime skins as its seasonal haul.[27]

Both Murrays cashed in. Cutter made £600 one season.[28] Working with Eric Saddington at the Racecourse, Surrey Hills, Basil took 3000 wallabies in 1943. Unfortunately their wallaby snares also landed 42 out-of-season brush possums (21 grey and 21 black)—which landed the pair in court on unlawful possession charges. Both men were fined.[29] Basil had a reputation for being a ‘poacher’, and one story of his cunning, apocryphal or not, rivals those told about fellow poacher Bert Nichols.[30]

According to Ted Crisp, Basil was sitting at the bar at the Guildford Junction Railway Station when two Fauna Board rangers came in on the train and announced they were looking for Basil Murray, whom they believed had a stash of out-of-season skins. Then they set off for his hut, rejoining the train to go further down the line:

‘Old Baz headed down by foot and took after them, he was a pretty good mover in the bush and the trains weren’t real fast … and by the time he got down there, they’d found his skins, decided there were too many to carry out so they’d hide them and pick them up at a later date, and of course old Baz was sitting there watching them, they had to catch the train back a couple of hours later, they left and old Baz picked up the skins and moved them to another place …’

By the time the Fauna Board rangers got back to Guildford, Basil was still in the bar, propped up against the counter.[31] However, the taxman did better than the Fauna Board rangers. Basil seems to have been a chronic tax avoider. He and Eric Saddington were camped at Bulgobac, squaring sleepers and snaring, when they were busted for not filing tax returns for the years 1941–42–43.[32]

Basil kept on in the same vein, landing a £25 fine for not lodging a 1943–44 return and then a whopping £60 for the 1947–48–49 period.[33] Things finally got too hot for Basil, who adjourned to the Victorian goldfields for a time.[34]

In 1951 Basil was the cook for the party re-establishing the track between Corinna and Zeehan. One of the track-makers, Basil’s nephew Barry Murray remembered him as ‘a good old cook, as clean as Cutter was rough. They were just opposites. He had a big Huon pine table. He used to scrub it with sandsoap every day, and he would have worn it away if he’d stopped there for two or three years’.[35] Basil became well known as APPM’s gatekeeper at the Hampshire Hills.

In 1963 Cutter Murray was one of Joe Fagan’s men recruited by Harry Fraser of Aberfoyle in a party which investigated the old Cleveland tin and tungsten mine and recut the Yellowband Plain track to Mount Lindsay. At the party’s Mount Lindsay camp Cutter used snares to reduce the numbers of marauding devils that were tearing through the canvas tents, biting the tops off sauce bottles and biting open tins of beef and jam.[36]

Cutter Murray (left) and friend at Waratah. Note the Ascot cigarettes advertisement on the wall behind him. Photo courtesy of Young Joe Fagan.

Cutter snared until virtually the day he died in the 1980s, making him—along with Basil Steers—one of the last of the snarers. He possumed on North’s block and took wallabies on the Don Hill, under Mount Bischoff, wheeling the skins home draped over a bicycle. A great snaring dog, a labrador that he had trained to corner but not kill escaped game, made his life easier.[37] Nothing is known to remain of his hunting regime, not a hut or a skin shed. Barely a photo remains of the hardy bushman. His tiger tale flitted across the country via newspaper in 1984, then was forgotten.

Thylacine researchers Stephen Sleightholme and Nicholas Ayliffe suggested that Cutter Murray’s travelling tiger—or at least her head—is the best-preserved part of his legacy. A tiger was on-sold by the Beaumaris Zoo to the London Zoo in 1925, being exhibited there from 1926 until her death in 1931. Her head later travelled a few kilometres more to the Oxford University Museum of Natural Sciences, joining Soviet revolutionary hero Lenin in the world of suspended animation.[38] However, I thank another thylacine researcher, Gareth Linnard, for pointing out that the dates may not add up.[39] The London tiger sailed from Hobart on the Port Curtis on 22 July 1925.[40] The American fleet which Cutter Murray mentioned as being in Hobart during his tiger visit did not dock until 4 August 1925.[41] Unless Cutter stayed a couple of weeks in the south he could not have handed over the London tiger and seen the fleet. This is not inconceivable, as he may have accompanied his brother Basil to the Adamsfield osmiridium rush then taking place, but the fate of Cutter Murray’s travelling tiger is a tantalising uncertainty.

[1] Barry Murray, interviewed by Nic Haygarth, 21 November 2008.

[2] Barry Murray, interviewed by Nic Haygarth, 23 July 2011.

[3] Registration no.484, born 16 May 1898, RGD33/1/85 (TAHO). Basil Murray’s years of birth and dirt are recorded on his headstone in the Wivenhoe General Cemetery, Burnie.

[4] ‘Ridgley’, North West Post, 8 October 1907, p.2.

[5] Cutter Murray; quoted by Mary McNamara, ‘Have Tasmanian tiger, will travel … but only once’, Australian, 1984, publication details unknown.

[6] Basil and John Murray were refused an exemption (‘Waratah Exemption Court’, North Western Advocate and the Emu Bay Times, 11 November 1916, p.2; ‘Burnie: in freedom’s cause’, North Western Advocate and the Emu Bay Times, 13 January 1916, p.2), but there is no record of Basil serving.

[7] ‘Tasmanian casualties’, North Western Advocate and the Emu Bay Times, 22 September 1916, p.3.

[8] Barry Murray, interviewed by Nic Haygarth, 23 July 2011.

[9] Barry Murray, interviewed by Nic Haygarth, 23 July 2011.

[10] Joe Fagan to Bob Brown and Ern Malley, 1972 (QVMAG).

[11] Barry Murray, interviewed by Nic Haygarth, 23 July 2011.

[12] Cutter Murray and Joe Fagan to Bob Brown and Ern Malley, 1972 (QVMAG).

[13] Harry Reginald Paine, Taking you back down the track … is about Waratah in the early days, the author, Somerset, 1994, pp.62–66.

[14] Cutter Murray and Joe Fagan to Bob Brown and Ern Malley, 1972 (QVMAG).

[15] Cutter Murray; quoted by Mary McNamara, ‘Have Tasmanian tiger, will travel … but only once’, Australian, 1984, publication details unknown.

[16] Cutter Murray; quoted in ‘He once had pet Tasmanian tiger’, Mercury, 13 February 1973.

[17] AAC (Bert) Mason, No two the same: an autobiographical social and mining history 1914–1992 on the life and times of a mining engineer, Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, Hawthorn, Vic, 1994, p.571.

[18] See, for example, ‘For sale’, Examiner, 17 Jun 1925, p.8.

[19] Cutter Murray; quoted by Mary McNamara, ‘Have Tasmanian tiger, will travel … but only once’.

[20] Register of osmiridium buyers’ return of purchases, MIN150/1/1 (TAHO).

[21] Barry Murray, interviewed by Nic Haygarth, 21 November 2008.

[22] Barry Murray, interviewed by Nic Haygarth, 23 July 2011.

[23] Steve Scott, quoted by Tess Lawrence, A whitebait and a bloody scone: an anecdotal history of APPM, Jezebel Press, Melbourne, 1986, p.25.

[24] Kerry Pink, ‘His heart belongs to Waratah … Joe Fagan’, Advocate, 10 August 1985, p.6.

[25] Barry Murray, interviewed by Nic Haygarth, 21 November 2008.

[26] ‘£15,000 skin sale at Guildford’, Examiner, 14 October 1943, p.4; ‘Over 32,000 skins offered at sale’, Advocate, 13 September 1944, p.5; ‘Record prices at Guildford skin sale’, Advocate, 30 July 1946, p.6.

[27] ‘£15,000 skin sale at Guildford’, Examiner, 14 October 1943, p.4.

[28] Barry Murray, interviewed by Nic Haygarth, 23 July 2011.

[29] ‘Trappers fined’, Advocate, 22 October 1943, p.4.

[30] For Nichols’ poaching, see Simon Cubit and Nic Haygarth, Mountain men: stories from the Tasmanian high country, Forty South Publishing, Hobart, 2015, pp.116–19.

[31] Ted Crisp; quoted by Tess Lawrence, A whitebait and a bloody scone: an anecdotal history of APPM, p.26.

[32] ‘Men fined’, Mercury, 5 May 1944, p.6.

[33] ‘Fines imposed for income tax offences’, Mercury, 5 September 1946, p.10; ‘Fined for tax breaches’, Examiner, 6 July 1950, p.3.

[34] Barry Murray, interviewed by Nic Haygarth, 23 July 2011.

[35] Barry Murray, interviewed by Nic Haygarth, 23 July 2011.

[36] AAC (Bert) Mason, No two the same, pp.570–71, 577, 579.

[37] Barry Murray, interviewed by Nic Haygarth, 23 July 2011.

[38] SR Sleightholme and N Ayliffe, International thylacine specimen database, 5th revision (DVD), Zoological Society, London, 2013.

[39] Gareth Linnard, email, 9 December 2018.

[40] ‘Shipping’, Mercury, 23 July 1925, p.4. For confirmation that tigers were to be sent on that vessel, see ‘Hobart Zoo’, Advocate, 20 July 1925, p.2.

[41] ‘The American fleet’, Huon Times, 4 August 1925, p.2.

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Checklist of the 250 osmiridium diggers in 1922

Osmiridium diggers meeting their wives and receiving their stores at the Nineteen Mile Hut, probably in 1921. JH Robinson photo from the Colin Dennison Collection, University of Tasmania Archives.
Four generations of Waratah’s Thorne family, including osmiridium miner and buyer JH Thorne at right. JH Robinson photo courtesy of the late Nancy Gillard.

The diggers were grizzling. In 1921 Tasmania enjoyed a world monopoly on ‘point metal’ osmiridium, that is, osmiridium grains that were just the right size to fuse onto the nibs of gold fountain pens. The ossie price was generally high. Tasmania’s niche in the market was unchallenged. The diggers on the fields west and south-west of Waratah should have been happy.

They weren’t. Part of the problem was that few had a grasp of economics. They did not understand that they dampened demand by rushing their ore to market. Remotely located diggers working alone felt cut off from the metal market. Some were convinced that they were the victims of collusion between precious metal buyers who were determined to force down the price.

Secretary of the osmiridium pool, Chris Sheedy, is third from left at back. Second from left in the front row is Chris Sheedy senior, onetime foreman of the Brown Face at the Bischoff mine. Photo courtesy of John Turnbull.

Calls for government to intervene in the market were finally answered when Premier Sir Walter Lee agreed to introduce an experimental monopoly. As of 1 January 1922, precious metals dealer Overell & Sampson held the only Tasmanian osmiridium buyer’s licence—so now there could be no collusion. Could the company get the diggers a better price for their metal? Almost 250 men banked on it, selling their osmiridium through the government scheme. The list of sellers compiled on 30 June 1922 is now a handy checklist for historians and genealogists. Here are the men in one long list by rough alphabetical order as set out in the government records.[1] My only addition is some comments in the column at right.

Name Value of os (£, s & d) Weight of os (oz, dwts & grains) Comments
Anderson, Thomas 35-15-7 2-3-9
Aylett, George 40-11-3 2-7-5
Aylett, William 85-9-8 5-0-12 Later at Adamsfield
Allan, G & W 97-10-7 5-10-1
Allan, BJ 40-10-0 2-0-12
Allan, J 40-0-0 2-0-0 Jim Allan, Nineteen Mile Creek
Baptist, J 50-0-0 3-14-21 John D’Ahren Baptiste, aka Hooky Jack, later at Adamsfield.
Baptist, J (Reserve) 100-5-0 5-0-6
Beale, W 30-6-6 1-14-8
Berryman, E 133-7-10 8-18-17
Berkery, M 27-18-7 1-12-0
Buckingham, H 11-3-3 0-11-20
Betts, WA 46-14-4 3-1-23 Betts Track named after a Betts prospector.
Biggins, Norman 26-5-0 1-15-0
Billinghurst, J 20-11-0 1-3-16
Booth, George 31-18-9 2-2-14
Booth, William 45-2-5 2-17-4
Boyd, H 53-6-0 3-5-11
Brown, G 20-0-0 1-19-21
Bryant, JH 71-8-9 4-13-14 Former Derby shopkeeper. Committee member of the osmiridium pool.
Burness, J 16-15-0 1-2-8
Burness, Charles 18-5-0 1-4-8
Brettoner, JE 18-5-0 1-4-8
Blake, UJ 12-12-3 0-16-3
Bosich, L 13-15-0 0-18-8
Brodie, W 1-11-8 0-1-14
Button, A 47-19-5 2-9-18
Booth, George Jnr 32-9-2 1-12-11
Burge, J 11-14-2 0-11-17
Burke, RH 2-11-0 0-3-0
Bynon, R 42-11-3 2-5-17
Blair, F 8-0-0 0-8-0
Burness, HB 21-5-0
Callaghan, B 75-13-6 4-10-12
Carpenter, T 53-18-4 3-6-18
Carmody, H 37-0-0 4-0-0
Clementson, M 13-3-5 1-3-15 Matty Clementson, ‘the [Mount] Stewart king’.
Coghlan, J 17-0-0 0-17-0
Crawford, T 53-0-7 5-10-5
Casey, W 75-0-7 4-0-13
Casey, W 43-14-11 2-18-8
Cashman, John 39-18-2 2-9-15
Caudry, William 15-0-0 1-0-0 Caudry’s Reward reef mine, Caudrys Hill, the first mine of its kind in the world. Also had a lease at Mount Stewart.
Caudry, William 100-0-0 5-0-0
Caudry, Thomas 62-17-6 3-2-21 Brother of William Caudry.
Cooney, J 45-17-6 2-5-21
Cumming, R 47-19-7 2-9-18
Chellis, WH 128-11-8 6-8-14 Walter Chellis, Castray River, champion axeman & publican.
Cook, Henry 48-13-10 2-18-2
Cady, W 31-7-8 1-16-22
Davidson, J 19-0-7 1-2-3 Jack Davidson, stalwart of the Nineteen Mile.
Devlyn, Fred 73-9-6 4-0-3
Devereaux, H 28-9-7 1-12-3
Dixon, J 49-4-7 2-15-15
Doak, William 5-18-9 0-7-23 Doaks Creek at Adamsfield named after him.
Doran, William 47-14-7 3-0-7
Donovan, D 42-0-0 2-6-0
Dhu, Hugh 47-2-4 2-14-20
Dunn, Steve 34-8-6 2-0-12
Drew, M 21-11-7 1-5-16
Duffy, James & Manion, Thomas 1-2-0
Devlyn, John 6-5-7 0-8-9
Dixon, TF 12-13-2 0-16-8
Dwyer, S 42-11-10 2-13-4 Sammy Dwyer, from NSW, last man at the Nineteen Mile, 1950s
Duffy, J 27-4-2 1-14-23
Dunn, John 23-13-4 1-3-16
Donohue, J 18-16-0 1-0-6
Davies, D 20-6-6 1-2-3
Dickson, C 42-10-7 2-5-16
Davie, A 48-10-0 2-10-0 Probably Arthur Davey, one of the stalwarts of the Nineteen Mile.
Dettoner, AC 11-12-4 0-11-16
Davies, C 25-0-0 1-5-0
East, G 61-16-8 5-5-20
Easther, C & Garrett, T 100-4-2 5-0-5
Easther, C 52-4-7 4-16-8
Eastwood, William 38-16-8 2-13-2
Elmer, William 57-19-1 4-6-9
Ellims, V 79-19-0 4-11-18
Evans, Charles 58-10-7 3-8-3 ‘Chillie’ Evans, a well-known digger.
Eames, G 71-10-7 4-0-15 Jones Creek digger George Eames, whose dealings with osmiridium buyer Robert Krebs in 1923 helped bring down the government monopoly scheme.
Etchell, Thomas 18-16-3 1-4-10 Brother of well-known bushman, Luke Etchell, with whom he lived at Guildford. They were also pulp wood cutters and snarers.
Fenton, S 58-18-1 3-6-23
Ferguson, WJ 18-5-5 3-4-6
Flowers, S 31-17-0 3-5-19
Forbes, A 47-5-0 6-3-0
Finlay, R 50-19-10 2-12-7
Fenton, AW 43-2-6 2-13-13
Ferrari, S 99-3-11 5-5-8
Frazer, JD 10-8-3 0-11-21 John D ‘Scotty’ Frazer, a well-known digger who disappeared in the bush in 1923, thought to have drowned.
Findon, John 14-0-0 0-14-0
Fahey, James 69-8-4 4-0-17
Farquhar, John 27-4-8 1-8-8
Flight, W 12-18-6 0-15-5
Finlay, JH 1-18-4 0-1-22 Jack Finlay, remembered by osmiridium fields poet Mulga Mick O’Reilly as ‘Jack Fennelly’.
Garratt, T 52-4-7 4-16-8 Probably Tyson Garrett of Savage River.
Grant, William 19-9-1 1-3-6
Grant, Charles 43-10-6 2-8-12
Grills, H 51-15-8 3-19-4
Grosser, PA 79-11-0 4-15-0 Magnet’s Phil Grosser, of Mount Stewart and the Nineteen Mile, later at Adamsfield.
Grubb, John 18-16-4 1-0-9
Gould, J 21-1-2 1-2-17
Gatehouse, H 79-11-8 3-19-14
Gurney, C 3-3-0 0-3-17
Harper, Thomas 25-8-8 1-9-3
Hamilton, William 21-7-6 1-11-17
Harrison, J 25-0-0 4-16-3 Is this Wynyard’s James ‘Tiger Cat’ Harrison, real estate agent, ‘human cork’ and prospector, who dealt in live marsupials, including thylacines?
Henderson, C 14-11-10 0-18-18
Hines, William J 0-12-7
Hodson, H 17-3-3 1-1-5
Hughes, Victor 24-14-9 3-8-5
Humphries, Albert 43-12-3 2-11-16
Humphries, Albert 36-6-10 1-19-12
Humphries, R 52-0-10 3-6-1 Probably Magnet resident Robert Humphries, of the Mount Stewart field.
Hancock, J 31-13-10 2-0-5 Probably Jos Hancock, of Flea Flat, Nineteen Mile Creek, whose hut was used as a location in the movie Jewelled Nights in 1925.
Hanlon, T 93-8-3 5-5-22
Harvey, Joseph 72-17-7 4-9-0
Humphries, HH 34-18-4 1-14-22
Harrison, M 32-0-0 1-12-0
Hope, A 22-1-8 1-2-2
Hollow, J 43-4-2 2-3-5
Hill, Kenneth 19-8-0 1-3-10
Inglis, AL 33-6-8 1-13-8
Inglis, AL 208-0-0 10-0-0
Jones, RW 100-0-0 10-0-0 Probably Robert Walter Jones, aka Wally Jones, who later went to Adamsfield and was osmiridium buyer HB Selby & Co’s agent there.
Jones, CH 22-14-4 1-10-7
Jans, FC 77-6-5 4-6-0 Fred Jans, later at Adamsfield, where he died in 1944.
Johnston, L 31-15-0 1-11-18
Jones, TH 60-0-0 3-0-0 Possibly Tom Jones, after whom Jones Creek was named.
Jones, John 16-0-1 0-17-16
Jenner, H 8-5-6 0-8-12 Harry Jenner, later at Adamsfield.
Keltie, William 18-3-11 1-2-23
Kenny, J 57-17-6 4-7-9
Kinsella, A 39-2-8 2-8-21 Possibly related to Bill Kinsella of Wilson River.
Kelcher, John 38-9-11 2-10-2
Knight, W 16-18-7 0-19-22
Kelly, James 16-18-5 1-2-13
Keenan, C 22-16-8 1-2-20
Kershaw, F 11-19-5 0-14-2
Lane, R 31-14-4 1-15-15 Roger Lane, who worked with the Maywood brothers at the Nineteen Mile.
Leary, M 34-6-3 2-11-14
Long, Thomas 32-3-11 2-0-7
Long, Thomas 27-3-10 1-8-7
Leach, George 10-1-10 0-11-21
Loughnan, E Jnr 50-15-7 3-6-17 ‘Peg Leg Ted’, one of the discoverers of payable osmiridium at Mount Stewart. Had a prosthetic leg. Loughnan Creek is named after him.
Loughnan, James 54-3-5 3-8-10
Lyons, T 3-15-0 0-5-0
Loughnan, E Snr 42-16-3 2-17-2
Llewellyn, John 47-0-0 2-15-0
Loughnan, George 51-5-11 2-14-18
Mackersey, L 24-1-8 1-18-0
Maywood, A 32-14-2 2-9-13 Brother of Ted Maywood, with whom he worked at the Nineteen Mile, along with Roger Lane.
Maywood, E 16-10-0 1-10-11 Ted Maywood, who worked at the Nineteen Mile with his brother and Roger Lane.
Mills, James & Jenner, H 1-3-4
Mills, J 57-16-3 4-15-18
Mills, J 19-2-6 1-2-12
Moore, A 28-16-8 3-14-5 Probably Savage River digger Albert Moore, brother of Reuben Moore.
Morgan, William 87-8-0 5-11-12
Moore, RR 74-3-9 4-3-17 Probably osmiridium digger and buyer Reuben Moore, who died at Savage River in 1925.
Moffitt, LJ 53-15-10 2-13-19
Martin, J 6-0-0 0-6-0
Manion, Thomas 26-4-2 1-12-23 From the Beaconsfield family of Manions?
Mallinson, RD 17-0-0 0-17-0
Meares, RK 11-11-7 0-13-15
Matthews, T 15-0-4 0-17-16 Possibly ‘Winger’ Matthews, who appeared in Marie Bjelke Petersen’s novel Jewelled nights as ‘Wingy’ Matthews.
Major, J 85-2-10 5-0-4
McAvoy, D 82-1-11 5-19-1
McAidell & Hill Probably CL McArdell and Harry Hill, the latter being a well-known digger who was later at Adamsfield.
McCaughey, LB 37-3-1 2-4-20
McDiamid, William 0-10-0
McGuiness, A 32-2-9 1-18-19
McGuire, J 44-18-9 3-14-12
McCormack, Charles 33-5-0 2-4-8
McGuiness, F 28-4-1 1-10-21
McCaughey, M 43-14-4 2-8-6
McCaughey, William 15-14-9 0-16-14
McQueeny, F 11-14-2 0-11-17
McArdell, CL 30-19-9 1-16-11
McDonald, Alex 8-10-0 0-10-0 Of Flea Flat, Nineteen Mile Creek, where he shared a hut with Jim McGinty until the latter’s death in 1920.
Newman, M 21-15-9 1-5-9
Newman, M 37-18-7 2-4-15
Nelson, H 40-0-0 2-0-0
Osborn, WH 44-4-3 2-13-10
Oakley, H 21-16-4 1-8-1
Oakley, J 38-5-11 2-12-4
Oakley, H & Loughnan, J 7-10-0 0-10-0
Oakley, RP 9-18-1 0-13-5
Papworth, S 40-0-0 4-0-0 Later of Adamsfield.
Pearson, Robert 103-15-8 6-0-6
Prouse, Charles A 141-8-0 8-9-10 Charles Arthur Prouse, son of Tom Prouse. Together in 1922 they were pictured with two large nuggets found on the upper Nineteen Mile, the one found on the dump by his father being a record 4.5 oz. Charlie Prouse later went on to Adamsfield, where he was the first bride groom on the field, marrying the bush nurse, Constance Brownfield, in 1928. Also an osmiridium buyer at Adamsfield.
Prouse, William 67-9-5 3-12-10
Parsons, Norman 35-12-6 2-7-12 From Caveside, was part of the syndicate trying to work a hydraulic show at the Little Wilson River.
Prouse, J 78-16-7 4-5-8
Paine, Hy 16-18-5 1-2-14 Possibly Harry Reginald Paine, later the author of a book about Waratah, Taking you back down the track …
Paine, W 18-8-4 0-18-10
Power, T 18-10-0 0-18-12
Prouse, H 20-4-0 1-2-14
Paine, Thomas 51-7-6 2-11-9
Reimers, J 36-5-0 3-3-6
Richardson, A 47-15-0 4-2-3
Richards, J 48-10-10 4-12-22
Ruggeri, R 27-12-8 1-12-13
Russell, J & Casey, W 2-6-12
Russell, J 67-5-7 3-12-19 Osmiridium pool committee member.
Russell, J 43-14-4 2-18-7
Ramsay, James 62-17-6 3-2-21
Ruffin, H 36-10-0 1-16-12
Rearden, S 6-18-1 0-8-3 Syd Reardon, from Lorinna, alcoholic prospector.
Schill, F 1-7-0
Shea, M 79-16-8 4-9-20
Sheedy, Chris 39-15-9 4-7-4 Secretary of the osmiridium pool.
Sims, W 12-14-7 1-6-1
Simpson, PC 34-5-6 1-17-21
Stanley, H 58-11-1 3-13-20
Smith, WH 34-0-0 2-0-0
Smith, R 70-0-5 4-17-22
Spencer, T 81-2-6 7-1-3
Sutton, WH 7-17-6 0-10-12
Stanton, JM 65-10-11 3-16-19 Reward lease holder (with Edward Loughnan jnr) at Mount Stewart.
Symons, GC 15-0-0 1-0-0
Spencer, John 88-8-1 5-6-18
Stebbings, A 74-6-8 4-6-13
Shady, William 30-5-0 2-0-8 William Antonio Shady, son of Syrian hawker and shopkeeper Antonio Shady, osmiridium buyer. Became a Waratah storekeeper.
Smith, Martin 38-7-11 2-6-1
Sullivan, J 36-1-4 2-1-11
Symons, James B 45-18-4 2-11-22
Symons, James B 105-0-0 7-0-0
Shaw, Thomas 114-2-2 6-13-17
Sewell, J 8-2-6 0-8-3
Spencer, James 25-7-6 1-5-9
Symons, Charles & George 154-10-0 7-14-12
Scoles, J 6-8-11 0-7-14
Symons, Charles 81-5-7 4-15-15
Thomas, T 15-7-5 0-18-2
Thurstans, F 61-14-3 4-10-15
Thorne, A 66-7-9 5-6-4
Thorne, Charles 95-4-11 5-10-20
Thorne, W 33-6-9 2-3-4
Tudor, Lionel 91-4-8 6-18-3
Tudor, Lionel 110-5-0 7-7-0
Tunbridge, E 39-3-9 2-17-6
Turner, H 1-12-11
Taylor, James 18-5-0 1-4-8
Tudor, Henry 111-2-2 6-2-8
Thorne, Harold 12-12-8 0-14-13
Thorne, H & W 44-5-0 2-8-12
Venville, D 36-19-2 2-7-12
Watkins, J 24-15-7 1-8-6
Wilson, R 54-0-0 4-0-12
Wilson, W 37-17-6 2-10-12
Whyman, Victor 59-12-1 3-14-22 Driver for his brother Ray Whyman, storesman and packer on the osmiridium fields. Claimed to be the model for the singing driver in Marie Bjelke Petersen’s novel Jewelled nights.
Whyman, Arthur 30-11-3 2-0-18
Whyman, Phillip 52-6-8 2-17-8 Proprietor of the Bischoff Hotel.
Wilson, J 35-8-3 2-1-12
Wilson, Percy W 34-18-1 2-3-21
Woolley, James 4-12-1 0-5-9
Walters, WA 25-8-4 1-5-10
Wragg, H 12-10-0 0-12-12

 

[1] From AB948/1/98 (Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office).

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Lily Gresson’s Adamsfield Airbnb

Main Street Adamsfield, 1926, with Ida Smithies and Florence Perrin. Fred Smithies photo courtesy of the Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office.

 

In November 1926 a Mrs Gresson advertised tourist accommodation at the Tasmanian mining settlement of Adamsfield: ‘See Tasmania’s Wild West, the “osie” diggers, Adams Falls, Gordon Gorge’.[1] What extraordinary enterprise for a simple digger’s wife 120 km west of Hobart! However, when you learn what an extraordinary woman Lily Gresson actually was, this visionary behaviour comes as no surprise at all.

A water race and the village of Adamsfield, 1926, Fred Smithies photo courtesy of the Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office.

Her old school Airbnb advert was probably shaped by two events: meeting the one-man promotional band Fred Smithies; and a memorable outing she made to the nearby Gordon River Gorge. Visiting Adamsfield by horseback and pack-horse in February and March 1926, Smithies, an amateur tourism promoter, had snapped the town and its jagged skyline for his travelling lantern-slide lecture ‘A trip through the wilds of the west coast and the osmiridium fields’. ‘Gorges of inspiring grandeur’ and ‘magnificent mountain scenes’ also transfixed Gresson. Decades later she recalled that

‘the scenery to the Gordon River was indescribable. Peak after peak of snow-capped mountains and the Gordon Gorge was so precipitous we would scarcely see the bottom … [it] … was like so many battlements’.

Her party ‘cheerfully stalked along the ten miles of wonderful scenery singing bits of popular songs. This was the first time I had heard [‘]Waltzing Matilda[’], she recalled, ‘and it certainly cheered and helped us along, and home again, when we’—Lily and her husband Arthur Gresson, a veteran of the Siege of Mafeking during the South African War— ‘were beginning to flag’.[2]

 

Certainly the outing would have come as welcome relief from the routine of life on the Adamsfield diggings. The Gressons had rushed to Adams River in the spring of 1925, after the Staceys from the Tasman Peninsula and their mates struck payable osmiridium. Lily was a woman of great conviction. At a time when few women dared venture among the thousand or so men on the ossie field, she secured her own miner’s right, put together a side of bacon and other requisites, bundled her twelve-year-old son Wrixon onto the train and off they went to Fitzgerald, the western terminus of the Derwent Valley Line, to join Arthur.

Fitzgerald was still 42 km from Adamsfield. Meeting his family there, Arthur hired five horses, including one for Wrixon, who had never ridden a horse before, one for the packer and another to carry the three months’ supply of food and equipment. It was snowing. In parts of the Florentine Valley the mud was up to the horses’ girths, Lily recalled,

‘and they slithered, slipped and plunged into the side track to keep themselves steady. The track was narrow, hastily prepared in very thick scrub, corduroyed also hurriedly—the edges not even adzed. I pitied the poor ‘gees’ [horses] slipping and floundering to try and gain firm footing. I thought I would soon be slipping over their heads and called out to my husband, “Shall I dismount?” “Certainly not”, was the reply, “or you will never get up again.” So I stayed on as best I could following the packer’s lead, for I was behind him. Presently, just around the corner, he shouted, “Look out, the down packs are coming!”’[3]

A packer leading a pack-horse team out of Fitzgerald, taking supplies into Adamsfield, 1925. Alf Clark photo courtesy of Don Clark.

This was pack horses returning unsupervised from Adamsfield. When the osmiridium field was reached, the horses were simply released to find their own way back down the track to Fitzgerald. Given that there was no feed between the two centres, the hungry animals galloped wherever they could, a nasty surprise for the uninitiated coming the other way. How the horses survived the return trip without a broken leg is hard to imagine.

The Gresson party stopped for the night at Chrisp’s Hut, a leftover from the 1907 Great Western Railway Survey.[4] It took a further day to reach Adamsfield over the ranges. The mining settlement was ‘a busy seething mass of men and horses, to say nothing of a vast morass of mud, with short stumps sticking up everywhere, quite enough to topple us over’. Arthur Gresson was living in the sort of tent-hut typical of a temporary miner’s quarters. Wrixon slept on a bench in a bark humpy with only a hessian curtain to keep out the cold, while his parents bunked down under a tent fly.

Having obtained the miner’s right, Lily was entitled to peg her own claim measuring 50 yards by 50 years (that is, about 45 metres square), and she set out next morning suitably attired in her lace-up mining boots, riding breeches, short coat and emerald-green rain hat. After she had dug a hole almost two metres deep and obtaining osmiridium-bearing earth, a man ‘jumped’ her claim, taking all the valuable ‘wash’ before she even knew it had happened. Arthur Gresson sent the intruder packing, but the damage was done, and Lily had to start again on a new claim. Soon she was winning tiny nuggets of coarse ‘metal’ by sluicing the ‘wash-dirt’.[5]

The Gressons remained at Adamsfield through the tough winter of 1926, when the diggers tried to counteract a reduced osmiridium price by selling their metal directly to London. It was tough going through that winter. Many left the field, while others stayed and suffered. Lily recalled the time nineteen-year-old digger Maxwell Godfrey went missing on an icy-cold night. He curled up under a log in the bush, but his legs were frostbitten. Nurse Elsie Bessell, who had only a tent for a hospital, could do little for him, and the news got no better after he was stretchered out to Fitzgerald, slung between two horses. Both his legs were amputated below the knee.[6] A public subscription raised about £500 to help him, and soon he was walking again with the aid of prosthetics.[7]

Maxwell Godfrey walks again, from the Mercury, 24 May 1928, p.5.

Lily Gresson, who had had some nursing experience in London, again showed her versatility by looking after the two patients in the hospital while Nurse Bessell accompanied the incapacitated man out to the railway station. Perhaps Lily also home schooled thirteen-year-old Wrixon. There were few children and no school at Adamsfield at this time, so otherwise he would have lost a year of his education.

And the Gressons’ Air B’n’B house? Well, while it was hardly the Adamsfield Hilton, it was comfortable enough by mining frontier standards—a paling hut with a big fireplace and a real glass window.[8] Lily Gresson might have been just a little ahead of her time. Hikers would soon be on their way to Adamsfield and the glorious south-west beyond. Ernie Bond would be besieged with them at times on his Gordon River farm, Gordon Vale, during the 1930s and 1940s. In 1952 the Launceston and Hobart Walking Clubs would even inherit Gordon Vale. Lily Gresson , pioneer of the Adamsfield diggings, was onto something!

With thanks to Dale Matheson, who showed me this story.

[1] ‘Board and residence’, Mercury, 23 November 1926, p.1.

[2] Lily Gresson; quoted by Fred A Murfet, in Sherwood reflections, the author, 1987, p.194.

[3] Lily Gresson; quoted by Fred A Murfet, in Sherwood reflections, p.190.

[4] In her account, Lily Gresson did not mention the notorious ‘Digger’s Delight’, the sly-grog shop and accommodation house that accompanied Chrisp’s Hut soon after the Adams River rush began. Perhaps Ralph Langdon and Bernie Symmons had already moved on into down-town Adamsfield, building Symmons Hall with its accompanying illegal boozer.

[5] Lily Gresson; quoted by Fred A Murfet, in Sherwood reflections, p.192.

[6] ‘Bush nursing’, Mercury, 22 July 1926, p.11; Elsie G Bessell, quoted by Marita Bardenhagen, Adamsfield bush nursing paper, presented at the Australian Mining History Association conference at Queenstown, 2008; ‘Sufferer in bush’, Mercury, 24 May 1928, p.5.

[7] ‘Maxwell Godfrey Fund’, Mercury, 27 July 1927, p.3; ‘Maxwell Godfrey walks again’, and ‘Sufferer in bush’; both Mercury, 24 May 1928, p.5.

[8] Lily Gresson; quoted by Fred A Murfet, in Sherwood reflections, p.192.