Tuesday, 4 June 2013

4 Sophia Stanger 1841

A horse that refuses to pull its dray

So, what do all these observations have to do with ‘Warrimoo’, which had not been “settled yet? In a sense, in history, we need to understand why things do not happen as much as why they do. Warrimoo was not settled by Europeans in the middle of the 19th century, because its time had not yet come…

The testimony of these traveling observers tells us of the realities of the period: the amenities (or lack thereof), difficulties of travel, the size of population, the wilderness all around, the type of country required for European exploitation. Prior to the gold rushes, the section of lower mountains’ bush we now call ‘Warrimoo’ was simply part of the scenery to be passed through.

Now that the European invasion was in full swing the role of Warrimoo as ‘place’ was to change irrevocably. Darug land management practices, which had focussed on integrative cycles of resource usage, was being cumulatively degraded. The European invasion demanded conquest, clearance and domination. Mrs. Sophia Stanger was part of that invasion. More than our previous observers, she represented a working class determination to struggle, subdue and win—an attitude emblematic of the British imperialist movement of the time.

Her story is in the form of a letter to her “Beloved Mother” back in England. She sought to travel across the Mountains to Bathurst with her Blacksmith husband Joseph and her five children, during the winter of 1841.

Admitting at the start that they could not afford the 90 shillings each needed to catch the “mail cart”, she and her husband agreed to sell all non-essentials and “hitch a ride” with another settler, on his two-horse dray, camping along the way. They thought this might avoid the “undesirable company of bullock drivers, who are almost sure to be convicts of the very lowest grade.”[1]

The journey did not commence well...

And now, dear mother, fancy me with my five dear babes seated on the top of this miserable load! Eliza walking on a little out of the town, and my husband by our side, on one of the coldest mornings in June (which you must remember is your November, and quite as cold in many parts); but although we had resolved on starting, the poor horses had evidently determined otherwise, both positively refusing to act as leader. After much whipping, scolding and rearing up, the horse in the shafts fell down with the load pressing heavily on some part of it, making it very restive and with no little difficulty, we again dismounted. As is usual in such cases we soon had plenty of help and plenty of advisers:--

"Sure you wouldn't be thinking to cross the mountains with all those children!” cried one; and “sure you'll lose all your babes, God bless them!" cried another; "the mountains are all covered with snow, you will certainly perish," said a third; while others were utterly astonished a young girl should have so many children and especially three at a birth...

Every hour seemed now to increase our perplexities, for the horses would not stir an inch and the load was by far too heavy. Our goods were gone on several days in advance of us and there we stood with just money enough to defray our expenses and none to spare for delays or fresh agreements, the driver coolly telling us that he was very sorry, but his horses would not take the load, and he would not go without it...

Yet the Stanger family finally made it to the base of the Blue Mountains, and rested around a fire for the climb ahead of them...

Horses and dray, although this one is empty and the horses look quite powerful--the Stangers's dray was packed far too high, and the horses were poorly conditioned...

Being anxious to reach the top before dark, we attempted once more to proceed, but here the poor horses once again raised objections, and very soon the accompanying dray was backed fast against a tree, about 9 feet (3 metres—Ed) below the level of the road, and here we must have stayed had not a number of men forming the iron-gang (who were returning from their work of improving these roads) kindly assisted us, for a small sum to buy themselves tobacco. They very readily strung into harness of ropes, some drawing before, and others pushing at the wheels. These men are stationed at various places, with two or three soldiers over them, working constantly in heavy irons, and their labour generally appointed as punishment... [3]

Exhausted, Sophia and her brood achieved the top of Lapstone Hill and marvelled at the view below them. They advanced to set up camp near the Military Depot at Glenbrook Lagoon, and after almost being crushed in their tent by startled horses during the night, awoke next morning to continue their trek...

Now, again, the roads were heavy, and the drivers, notwithstanding every effort, were constantly mortified by the horses standing still, and then lying quite down.

Through this day poor Eliza walked on with dear baby, and I brought up the rear and blocked the wheels at every stoppage, sometimes left half-a mile behind, and then having to run as fast as possible to perform this new but somewhat irksome duty. Having made this day about eight miles, (it must have been less, probably six miles—Ed) we encamped near a hut at Springwood and with mutual consent, the next morning, parted with our guide, who, placing the horses abreast, proceeded with his load, leaving us to wait some other conveyance.[4]

Clearly on this day, Sophia Stanger and her family had passed through the bushland that was to become, within a few decades, “Warrimoo”. Her preoccupations were elsewhere, however: with the welfare of her young children: the baby, Matilda, a mere two months old, the eldest boy, Willie, and the triplets, Mary, Sarah and Eliza, all of whom were under six years of age.

The sheer labour of keeping the draft-horses moving and supervising the safety of her young, no doubt meant that the countryside drifting painfully by meant little to Sophia, nor all those like her, preceding her or following in her wake. Without the slightest inkling of the future, yet part of history. Such are our own lives, today, ‘History is what happens when you’re busy doing other things’...

Towards evening that day we were joined by five bullock teams and as one had behind his dray a new and empty one, we agreed with him to take us to Bathurst. Among these vehicles was the one loaded with our goods, which we had passed on the road, but as they formed altogether a jolly company and had been a week coming from Sydney, they thought well to "spell" (as they termed it) another day; but while they were carousing, our stock of provisions were diminishing, and it was with cheerful hearts that, about eleven the next morning we found ourselves on the road, comfortably seated in our new conveyance, and forming, as the procession moved slowly along, a formidable array--for, to every dray, there were about three men to swear at, beat and take care of the bullocks, each team consisting of nine, and almost as many dogs. Now we had no more anxiety, for our cattle were sure though slow, and if any difficulty occurred, it was only to hook on some ten or eight others and soon all was set right.

A bullocky with his team--note the condition of these cattle is not so good--if they collapsed on the journey and refused to get up, they would be left to die on the side of the road

Nothing occurred worth relating until we camped the second night, when having all our fires lighted, the winds blowing very cold and high took some of our sparks across the road and soon communicated with the bush. Seeing it spread and blaze to a considerable extent amused us. It is not infrequently that in dry seasons the bush takes fire, spreading destruction for miles, burning down everything before it. I should say that on these mountains, we felt the cold quite as severely as at any time I can remember in England and we daily expected snow, as it lays sometimes for weeks on these ridges, but dear Joseph most cleverly, contrived to shelter us by placing our ships berths at the sides and covering the top with the canvas of our tents.[5]

Ironically, Sophia Stanger and her family had found security among the swearing bullockies they had so desperately sought to avoid at the outset of their journey. Ironically too, she found warmth and “amusement” in the blaze that “burned everything before it”, no doubt wringing havoc upon the wildlife and people(?) in its path.

The successful arrival of the Stangers at Bathurst some days later, and the many families that followed, meant that British settlement of the Nineteen Counties, and the Blue Mountains, proceeded apace.

[1] MACKANESS, G., Fourteen Journeys Over The Blue Mountains of New South Wales –Part III—1835-1841, Review Publications, Dubbo, 1978, p.65
[2] Ibid., p. 65
[3] Ibid., p66
[4] Ibid., p67
[5] Ibid., pp 67-68