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Up the Cradle Mountain: Peregrinator and pals climb Cradle in 1891

William Dubrelle Weston, aka 'Peregrinator'. Photo from the Launceston Family Album, courtesy of the Friends of the Launceston LINC.
William Dubrelle Weston, aka ‘Peregrinator’. Photo from the Launceston Family Album, courtesy of the Friends of the Launceston LINC.
Ernest Milton Law, Weston's hiking and legal partner. Photo from the Launceston Family Album, courtesy of the Friends of the Launceston LINC.
Ernest Milton Law, Weston’s hiking and legal partner. Photo from the Launceston Family Album, courtesy of the Friends of the Launceston LINC.

 

In March 1886 the pastoralist Alfred Archer of Palmerston, south of Cressy, guided two Launceston schoolboys across the Central Plateau through poorly charted country to Lake St Clair.[1] This was the first in a series of extraordinary highland excursions for sixteen-year-old William Dubrelle Weston (1869–1948) and fifteen-year-old Ernest Milton Law (1870–1909). Later adventures would include probably the first bushwalk to the Walls of Jerusalem, visits to Great Lake and Mount Barrow, and the first two tourist trips to Cradle Mountain—‘the summit of our ambition’.[2]

 

On most of these expeditions they would be joined by two chums they knew from the Launceston Grammar School, the brothers Richard Ernest Smith (1864–1942), known as Ernest or ‘Old Crate’, and Alfred Valentine ‘Moody’ Smith (1869–1950). Weston’s letters from the period show the friends’ high-spirited camaraderie, and how hiking relieved the stresses of study, career, faith, self-discipline and social life during the transition from adolescence to manhood. Bushwalking was already popular in Tasmania, with accounts of highland excursions appearing regularly in newspapers.

Cradle Mountain and Dove Lake, as Peregrinator's party would have seen it, without tourist infrastructure. HJ King photo courtesy of Maggie Humphrey.
Cradle Mountain and Dove Lake, as Peregrinator’s party would have seen them, without tourist infrastructure. HJ King photo courtesy of Maggie Humphrey.

Why did they choose Cradle Mountain in 1888? The peak received few visitors. No ascents are recorded between James Sprent’s trigonometrical survey in about 1854 and that by Dan Griffin and John McKenna in March 1882.[3] The discovery of gold on the Five Mile Rise on the western side of the Forth River gorge had increased traffic towards Cradle on the old Van Diemen’s Land Company Track, but the peak itself remained more remote from Launceston than even Lake St Clair was.

 

However, the Launceston Grammar old boys were now confident, independent bushwalkers. The Smith brothers were in charge of the commissariat. Alf was the hunter of the party, armed with a rifle. Currawongs and green parrots were landed on the way to Cradle Mountain, although a snake despatched by two weapons was left off the menu. Porridge, bread and butter, johnny cakes and beef fed the party at other times. Water proved so scarce that on the Five Mile Rise (near today’s Mail Tree or Post Office Tree on the Cradle Mountain Road) it was squeezed out of moss, a decoction that not even the addition of the emergency brandy and whisky could make palatable.

 

The party attempted to reach Cradle not by today’s tourist route across the Middlesex Plains, then south to Pencil Pine Creek, but by the direct route which took them into the deep, scrubby Dove River and Campbell River gorges. This was the hunters’ route to Cradle, but Weston’s party soon lost their way. With supplies dwindling on their fifth day out, there was nothing for it but to turn for home. Weston, who had taken to writing under the pseudonym of ‘Peregrinator’ or ‘Mr Peregrinator’, had been tantalised by Cradle’s ethereal heights:

 

‘Before us rose the imposing mass of the mountain; to our right was another stupendous gorge; and high above it and us a splendid eagle sailed in clam serenity, above all the ups and downs of terrestrial life and toil.’[4]

 

Ernest Smith wrote of the same vista months late: ‘I have that scene as vividly before me now while I am writing as if I were there, and I shall have until I die’.[5] There was no question but that they would return.

 

Two summers passed before ‘the old Company’ could reassemble, and they did it without ‘Moody’ Smith. ‘At last Mr Peregrinator and two friends got loose from their respective occupations’, Weston opened his second Cradle Mountain narrative. Infrastructure had improved in the three years since their last Cradle adventure. The Mole Creek branch railway, a new Mersey River bridge and the Forth River cage (flying fox) expedited travel. For a second time Fields’ Gads Hill stockman Harry Stanley doubled as their official weighbridge. That this time their packs averaged about 49 lbs (22 kg) each, compared to 43.5 lbs (20 kg) on the previous trip, suggests heavier provisioning in an effort to secure their goal. Extra cocoa, ship’s biscuit, porridge, rice and tea probably came in handy—as did bushranger Martin Cash’s autobiography—when time lost to rain extended the trip to thirteen days.

 

The four chose the easier route via Middlesex Station, which proved a useful staging-post, and provided a stockman to guide them onwards. Like other early Cradle climbers, Peregrinator’s party mistook the more obvious north-eastern end of the mountain for the summit. They then had to dodge the series of intervening spires to reach the true summit at the south-western end, where they found the timber remains of James Sprent’s trigonometrical station.[6] Standing on Cradle’s pinnacle—the ‘summit of our ambitions’—in perfect stillness, with the island spread out below him, Weston struck a melancholic note:

 

‘We had been seeking grandeur of nature and now we beheld its plaintive softness … Sound, there was none. Yonder stood the frowning buttresses of the mountain … many a glistening silver line revealed a stream plunging in headlong fury down the distant slopes, and there asleep in the very arms of nature herself lay a tiny lakelet [probably Lake Wilks], whose breast was sacred e’en to the evening zephyr. How comes it that so much of this world’s intensest scenes of beauty are set in a minor key?’

 

Sadly, Weston recognised that the party’s hiking career ended then and there on the summit. Now aged from 20 to 26 years, the men would soon sacrifice their youth and their physical prime to adult responsibilities. Yet Weston’s usual picaresque banter, historical footnotes and topical commentary enlivened their extraordinary ‘final push’ home—about 45 km from Middlesex Station to Sheffield by foot in a day. Peregrinator’s romantic description of the jewels of the night guiding his descent from the Mount Claude saddle must have raised eyebrows among those who knew the place only for labour with pack-horse and bullock team on their way to the gold mines on the upper Forth River. After alighting from the train in Launceston, the trio made straight for the photographer’s studio and there immortalised ‘the old Co’s’ swansong. ‘The closing scene was enacted some days later when we called for our proofs’, Peregrinator concluded.

 

‘On our appearance we were some time making our photographer perceive that we were the same individuals, who had called in with the black billies and aspiring beared a few days before. And now the Cradle trip like many like it remains a please reminiscence of the past and a joy for the future.’[7]

William Dubrelle Weston (2nd from left) with guide Bert Nichols (3rd from left) before setting out from Waldheim to climb Cradle Mountain in 1933. Fred Smithies photo courtesy of Margaret Carrington.
William Dubrelle Weston (2nd from left) with guide Bert Nichols (3rd from left) before setting out from Waldheim to climb Cradle Mountain in 1933. Fred Smithies photo courtesy of Margaret Carrington.

It is unlikely that Alf ‘Moody’ Smith, who became a Church of England minister in New South Wales, ever stood on the summit of Cradle Mountain. Ernest Law never repeated the adventure, dying, tragically, of typhoid in 1909, aged only 38. Neither Ernest Smith nor Weston renounced hiking altogether, with the former leading boys on mountain treks in his career as a school-teacher. But only Weston returned to the top. In 1933, 45 years after he first tackled Cradle Mountain and now 64 years old, he noted in the Waldheim Chalet visitors’ book at Cradle Valley:

 

‘With thankfulness to God’s goodness it is recorded that WD Weston who led the first Launceston party (late Ernest M Law and Mr Richard Ernest Smith) in December 1890–January 1891 (ascent Jan 2nd 1891) reascended to the trig on the Cradle 28th December 1933’.[8]

 

Ironically, the urban conqueror of Lake St Clair, the Walls of Jerusalem and Cradle Mountain more than four decades earlier, was now led to the summit by Overland Track guide Bert Nichols, a bushman fifteen years his junior. It is fitting that such an early spruiker of highland tourism should return to walk part of the ‘new’ track that popularised the region.

[1] ‘The Tramp’ (WD Weston), ‘About Lake St Clair’, The Paidophone, vol.II, no.7, September 1987, pp.7–8; ‘Shanks’ Ponies’ (WD Weston), ‘A trip to Lake St Clair’, Launceston Examiner, 22 December 1888, p.2.

[2] See Nic Haygarth, “’The summit of our ambition”: Cradle Mountain and the highland bushwalks of William Dubrelle Weston’, Papers and Proceedings of the Tasmanian Historical Research Association, vol.56, no.3, December 2009, pp.207–24.

[3] ‘The Tramp’ (Dan Griffin), ‘In the Cradle country’, Tasmanian Mail, 8 February 1897, p.4.

[4] ‘Peregrinator’ (WD Weston), ‘Notes of a trip in the vicinity of the Cradle Mountain’, Colonist, 17 March 1888, p.4.

[5] RE Smith to WD Weston, date illegible, CHS47, 2/55 (Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery [henceforth QVMAG]).

[6] ‘Peregrinator’ (WD Weston), ‘Up the Cradle Mountain: no.3’, Launceston Examiner, 4 March 1891, supplement, p.2.

[7] ‘Peregrinator’ (WD Weston), ‘Up the Cradle Mountain: no.5’, Launceston Examiner, 11 March 1891, supplement, p.1.

[8] Waldheim Visitors’ Book, vol.2, p.8, 1991:MS0004 (QVMAG).

 

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The hydraulic man, or how Teddy O’Rourke dried out in the wet season

Hydraulic sluicing on the north-eastern Tasmanian tin fields. O'Rourke's hydraulic gold mine operated in the same manner. Stephen Spurling III photo, courtesy of Stephen Hiller.
Hydraulic sluicing on the north-eastern Tasmanian tin fields. O’Rourke’s hydraulic gold mine operated in the same manner. Stephen Spurling III photo, courtesy of Stephen Hiller.
The Five Mile Rise goldfield, between the upper Forth River and the Middlesex Plains, north-western Tasmania, showing the position of the O'Rourke's hydraulic gold mine.
The Five Mile Rise goldfield, between the upper Forth River and the Middlesex Plains, north-western Tasmania, showing the position of the O’Rourke’s hydraulic gold mine.

Had Tasmanian miner Teddy O’Rourke been an interior decorator, he would have been a shoo-in for a colonial courtroom refit. His familiarity with magistrates’ chambers from Hobart to Deloraine, with dalliances at Kempton, Lefroy , George Town and almost a permanent booking in Launceston, must have been unsurpassed. Unfortunately, he was probably often too drunk to remember the decor. Yet Teddy also seems to have found a way to beat the bottle for two decades.

Edward Martin O’Rourke was born into an Irish Catholic family in Hobart in about 1856. A newspaper report of his mother Eliza (née O’Donnell or Donnell, a convict[1]) leaving home to escape violent attack by his father, ex-convict constable Martin O’Rourke (or Rourke), when he was an infant suggests that his was not a happy, comfortable childhood.[2] His education was probably rudimentary, as he remained illiterate.[3] By the time Martin O’Rourke drowned trying to ford the Forester River in 1876 at the age of 45, Teddy had at least five siblings.[4] It was after that that Teddy, along with his mother and sister Mary Ann Stratton, started making regular appearances in the Launceston Police Court, charged with assault (sometimes of each other), theft and drunk and disorderly behaviour.[5] The Jolly Butchers Hotel in Balfour Street kept by Eliza O’Rourke was the scene of some of this action.[6]

At the age of about 21 Teddy left Launceston for a rollicking lifestyle, racking up fines for public disturbances and learning how to handle a cradle at Brandy Creek, the alluvial goldfield that became Beaconsfield.[7] The only treatment he appears to have received for alcoholism was a stint in the slammer. One assault charge against him was dropped because his delirium tremens made him unable to testify.[8] Finally, in 1883, the judiciary lost patience and he got six months’ gaol for being idle and disorderly—followed by another three months for the same offence, this time in Hobart.[9] He served at least six terms in Hobart’s Campbell Street Gaol.[10]

Yet after 1892 O’Rourke stayed out of trouble for more than 20 years. Was mining his saviour? Men like Syd Reardon and Paddy Hartnett at Lorinna, 20 km from the nearest hotel, are said to have found an escape from the bottle in the bush. Perhaps Teddy’s experience on the Five Mile Rise when it was a diggers’ gold field in the 1880s was literally a sobering one.[11]

Then in about 1893 the New Zealand hydraulic craze hit Tasmania, and old gold fields like the Five Mile Rise got another trial, this time with the high-pressure hydraulic hose. Teddy O’Rourke took a claim on Sunday Creek, high up the Five Mile Rise, built a hut nearby and embarked on an unusual seasonal regime. Since it was only in the wet season that he could get sufficient water to operate the high-pressure hose, he combined hydraulic sluicing with hunting. April, May and June were the traditional hunting season. Prospectors and miners in the bush generally snared and shot animals for food anyway, but processing their skins for sale would have enabled O’Rourke to maximise (and perhaps sustain) his winters in the bush. A photo of what is probably O’Rourke’s hut taken by Fred Smithies shows that it was equipped with a skin drying chimney typical of those developed in the Cradle Mountain-Middlesex Plains area for the drying of possum and wallaby skins.

Teddy now revealed that not only could he make the press but he could use it. The secret to raising capital, apparently, was constant self-reference in the mining columns of newspapers. Harold Tuson grew up at Lorinna. In 1911, at the age of thirteen, he started work on gangs making tracks and roads in the upper Forth River region. During this time he came to know O’Rourke well as a fellow road worker, one of the latter’s summer jobs. He recalled the ‘big lump of a [Tasmanian-born] Irishman’ speaking with a thick Irish brogue. Having survived two or three bushfires, O’Rourke’s hut was then clearly visible from Lorinna high on the hill. Tuson recalled the miner’s struggle with alcoholism and his appearances in both the legal and mining columns of the newspaper: ‘“O’Rourke’s Hydraulic showing gold freely in the face”. That was one of Teddy’s. He’d write that to the paper to keep it going’.[12] Other stock phrases included ‘sluicing on payable gold’.

‘Hut at the top of the Forth Gorge track’, probably O’Rourke’s hut, showing the typical skin shed chimney favoured by Middlesex area hunters. Fred Smithies photo, NS573/4/9/32 (TAHO)
‘Hut at the top of the Forth Gorge track’, probably O’Rourke’s hut, showing the typical skin shed chimney favoured by Middlesex area hunters.
Fred Smithies photo, NS573/4/9/32 (TAHO)

O’Rourke’s hut stood near the beginning of the pack track down to the Devon mine in the Dove River Gorge. This pack track had become part of an extraordinarily steep route used by hunters to gain access to the Cradle Mountain region. On the southern side of the Dove River Gorge, the route continued up a steep hill known as Paddys Nut and crossed the Campbell River.[13] This was the route used by hunters Tom Jones and Bert Hansen in the winter of 1905 when the latter was tragically lost in a snowstorm near the lake near Cradle Mountain that now bears his name. Jones reported four-feet-deep snow as he began to make his way out to O’Rourke’s hut to raise the alarm, giving some idea of the conditions the gold miner experienced during these winter stints.[14] Since there are no mining reports to the press from O’Rourke in 1905, hunting may have been his primary activity during that wet season.

He also had business elsewhere. In 1904 O’Rourke had taken up a tungsten claim nearby, and by 1907 he was based at Ringarooma in the north-east, where he discovered the Montrose tin mine.[15] Later he turned his attention to the Colebrook tin field on the west coast, where he held a claim for a Launceston syndicate.[16] Meanwhile, in his absence, his hut on the Five Mile Rise was entered, robbed and forfeited to the Crown.[17] Thus the only property Ted O’Rourke ever owned was lost.

In 1911 he had a child, Edeline O’Rourke, with the recently widowed Annie Bissett (née Garrett) in Launceston.[18] She already had five children! Family responsibilities would have necessitated a steady income, hence, perhaps, O’Rourke’s work on the road gang. Eventually he may have got too old for bush life. Again, he was not at his best in town near the pubs. O’Rourke’s declining years contained a familiar litany of court appearances, including charges of disturbing the peace and vagrancy.[19] In 1919 the 63-year-old was found lying unconscious with a gashed head on a Launceston street.[20] In 1920 he was described as ‘an old habitue’ when defending a charge of being drunk and incapable in Albert Park on Christmas Day and in Charles Street a few days later.[21] He sported a scar over his left eye, perhaps as the result of some drunken escapade.[22] In 1922 he absconded when wanted for non-maintenance of his children, being tracked down in Deloraine.[23] In 1924, at 68 years of age, he was again found drunk and incapable in the street.[24] The trail of self-destruction stops there.

Like so many children of ex-convicts who could never escape the cycle of poverty and alcoholism into which they were born, Ted O’Rourke would have died intestate, with few possessions. His death stirred no comment in the press. Perhaps no one mourned his passing. However, I like to think of him as an innovator. He developed an unusual regime of hose, snare and, perhaps, teetotal, which kept him upright for two decades, drying out when the wet winter season brought his mining claim to life. That counts him as a success!

[1] Eliza O’Donnell was transported on the Midlothian. See permission to marry, 4 April 1855, CON52/1/7, p.408 (TAHO) and marriage certificate 473/1855, Hobart.

[2] ‘Local intelligence’, Colonial Times, 17 March 1857, p.3.

[3] Campbell Street Gaol Gate-book, warrant no.17591, 18 February 1889; records compiled by Laurie Moody; http://www.tasmanianwarcasualties.com/gravesofts%20split/Campbell%20Street%20Gaol/Rural%20Offences%20Part%209.htm

[4] See inquest, POL709/1/13, p.31 (TAHO); ‘Police Court’, Launceston Examiner, 20 January 1877, p.3. Martin Rourke was tried at Galway on 23 June 1848, sentenced to seven years, and came to Tasmania on the Lord Balhousie, being pardoned in 1855.

[5] See, for example, ‘Police Court’, Launceston Examiner, 21 September 1876, supplement p.2; ‘Police Court’, Launceston Examiner, 9 November 1876, p.4.

[6] ‘Quarterly licence meeting’, Launceston Examiner, 8 August 1876, p.3; ‘Police Court’, Launceston Examiner, 9 November 1876, p.4; ‘No true bill’, Launceston Examiner, 1 March 1877, p.2.

[7] ‘George Town’, Reports of Crime, 5 April 1878, pp.55–56.

[8] ‘Launceston Police Court’, Launceston Examiner, 26 April 1882, p.3.

[9] ‘Launceston Police Court’, Launceston Examiner, 12 November 1883, p.3; ‘City Police Court’, Mercury, 17 December 1884, p.2.

[10] Laurie Moody, ‘Campbell Street Gaol: inmates 1873–1890’, Tasmanian Ancestry, vol.26, no.2, September 2005, pp.24–30.

[11] Harold Tuson, interviewed in Canberra, 11 May 1995.

[12] Harold Tuson, interviewed in Canberra, 11 May 1995.

[13] See, for example, ‘North Western notes’, Mercury, 4 August 1905, p.2.

[14] ‘Cradle Mountain mystery’, North Western Advocate and the Emu Bay Times, 11 September 1905, p.2.

[15] ‘Iris River wolfram field’, Examiner, 20 September 1904, p.2; ‘Discovery of tin’, Examiner, 26 October 1906, p.2.

[16] See, for example, ‘Colebrook tin fields’, Examiner, 24 February 1912, p.4.

[17] POL386/1/1, Daily Record of Crime Occurrences – Sheffield 1901-1916 (TAHO).

[18] Birth registration 4877/1911, Launceston. See ‘Branxholm railway accident’, Mercury, 26 April 1910, p.2.

[19] ‘Police Courts, Hobart’, Mercury, 21 September 1915, p.6; ‘Police Court’, Launceston Examiner, 3 November 1916, p.4; ‘City Police Court’, Launceston Examiner, 13 April 1917, p.4; ‘City Police Court’, Daily Telegraph, 18 June 1918, p.4.

[20] ‘An old age pensioner’s plight’, Launceston Examiner, 26 December 1919, p.4.

[21] ‘City Police Court’, Daily Telegraph, 6 January 1920, p.2.

[22] ‘Prisoners to be discharged’, Police Gazette, 9 April 1920, p.69.

[23] ‘Persons enquired for’, Police Gazette, 23 June 1922, p.114; ‘Absconders’, Police Gazette, 14 July 1922, p.127.

[24] ‘City Police Court’, Daily Telegraph, 15 December 1924, p.4.