1. Middlesex Plains
Jack Francis 1828 -1912
An early stockman at Middlesex, Jack Francis spent 53 years with Field Bros during the decades when their cattle enterprise was at its heights. Born at Woolburn, England, on 5 Feb 1828, he was a 11-year old boy convict when he landed in Hobart in 1839. Jack came north as one of Henry Kimberley’s shepherds, caring for his sheep up on the Vale of Belvoir over the summer of 1851. He enjoyed the highlands so much that after his marriage to Maria Bagwell of Deloraine, they moved to Middlesex with Jack becoming Field’s head stockman.
Jack recalls an early incident from the 1850s when a party of Field’s stockriders were on their way from Deloraine to the Middlesex to muster cattle. As usual they stopped at Dan Pickett’s Hotel, Chudleigh for drinks. When time came to move on, two young fellows Roberts and Woods were loathed to leave the pub, so the party left without them. A day or so later Woods arrived at Middlesex without Roberts. Asked where Teddy Roberts was, Woods replied that between Gad’s Hill and the Forth River, Roberts seemed to have had an ‘attack of the horrors’, galloped off into the bush and never returned. After a search was made, his mare was found but not Roberts. When Woods wanted to claim Robert’s horse and the few cattle he owned for himself, it was not allowed. Because of this, Woods was always regarded with some suspicion by his fellow stock riders. Whether the unfortunate Roberts was murdered for the sake of his mare and cattle, or just galloped off chased by some imaginary demons until he fell from his horse, will never be known. However, twenty or so years later prospectors found a human skull in this area, which would seem to belong to the ill-fated Teddy Roberts.
From time to time, Jack and Maria entertained significant visitors. Government geologist Charles Gould and his assistant arrived in May 1860 having walked overland from Lake St Clair searching for gold. In 1865 when surveyors James Calder and James Dooley wanted to return to Launceston via the overgrown VDL Co track, Maria offered to guide them through the bush. Both men were amazed next day when she came out, swung up astride her horse, then rode ahead of them smoking a little clay pipe, all the way to Chudleigh.
Before discovering tin at Mt Bischoff in Dec 1871, Philosopher Smith used Middlesex station as a base for replenishing his supplies. When he began washing tin from a stream now known as Tin Creek, Smith became so excited, he didn’t leave his claim until his food ran right out. Smith arrived at Middlesex in a very exhausted condition, having killed and eaten his camp dog to survive. Maria once hosted her boss Tom Field MHA and Governor Fred Weld’s party overnight on their way to inspect Mount Bischoff and rising town of Waratah.
On 11 Oct 1883 following an argument with her husband, sadly Maria took her own life. Jack was forced to lash her body to her horse, lead it across to Gad’s Hill where fellow stockman Harry Stanley helped bring her body out to Chudleigh where she was buried. Jack Francis retired from Middlesex in 1902 and bought a small farm at Mayberry near Mole Creek where he died at the home of his step daughter Mrs Holmes on 7 March 1912 aged 84.
Wm John (Jacky) Brown 1861 – 1911
Following Maria Francis’ untimely death, a young stockman Jacky Brown (22), was sent to join Jack Francis at Middlesex Plains. In 1893, when Brown fell from his horse and broke a bone in his leg, he was forced to ride 40 km to Sheffield to seek medical attention. Later when Brown told fellow bushman James Broomhall, he needed a wife, Broomhall replied he had a daughter Linda he could have. So, on 1 April 1895 Jacky Brown (34) married young Linda Broomhall (13?) at Dunorlan. At first, they lived at Forth Falls, but following the birth of their first child William in Nov 1898, they moved to Middlesex. Linda’s food supplies came every six months by bullock wagons, supplemented by Jacky’s wallaby and bullock steaks. Once Linda walked to Waratah to shop. She collected their mail from the Post Office tree for six years without ever meeting the mail man from Lorinna. During this time, they had two more children- Molly and Reggie. For the sake of their children, about 1906 Jacky and Linda transferred to Field’s Stockers property near Deloraine. A fourth child Jean was born there in 1910, just before 51-year-old Jacky Brown died. Linda took her children to Waratah, where she managed a boarding house and met George Fairbrother a tin-miner. They married in 1915, Linda bearing eight more children. The Fairbrothers lived at Penguin, Latrobe and Harford where Linda died aged 79 years.
Frank Brown d1923
With his wife Louise, Frank Brown replaced Jacky Brown as head stockman at Middlesex in 1906 but the two men were not closely related. Frank was an experienced bushman having worked on surveying a track to the West Coast. During Frank’s time at Middlesex, prospectors were everywhere. One of them, Charlie Davey while accompanying Brown to Wilmot, was thrown from his horse onto his head causing unconsciousness. Brown began to ride to the Shepherd and Murphy mine six kilometres away for help. Fortunately, he came across a
couple of miners out repairing a water race. Together they made a stretcher and commenced carrying him out, but after a mile or so Davey died.
On 6 January 1909 when Gustav Weindorfer and Dr Charles Sutton of Melbourne made their first trip into Cradle Valley, they left their cart at Middlesex and Frank Brown had a young stockrider guide them in and return several days later to lead them out. Eleven months later, in December 1909 Weindorfer returned with his wife in a chaise cart and Ronald Smith riding a bicycle. Leaving both vehicles at Middlesex, they trekked in this time for a three week stay. It was during this time that Gustav and Katherine decided to establish their home there. Three years later, at Christmas 1912, the Weindorfers were ready to welcome their first guests to their incomplete Waldheim Chalet. The Middlesex Plains station with Frank and Louise Brown became a vital stop over not only for visitors but getting supplies into Cradle Valley. Following Louise’s death in 1920, Frank Brown moved across to Field’s stockman’s station on top of Gads Hill, 1000 ft up from the Mersey River to live with his brother. On 2 June 1923 Frank left to go around some snares but didn’t return. When his brother and another stockman searched for him, Frank was found dead along the track from an apparent heart attack.
Dave Courtney 1861 -1945
The last of Field’s sturdy stockmen to live at Middlesex Plains was Dave Courtney. Born in Launceston, Dave had worked for John Field Jnr at Calstock, for many years before becoming head stockman at Middlesex in 1920. Dave was soon hosting increasing numbers of tourists, often using his horse to pull their bogged vehicles back on to the road. Middlesex station remained the end of any formed road for many years, as it wasn’t until 1934 that the road was completed right into Waldheim Chalet. An affable bachelor, Dave Courtney became close friends with Gustav Weindorfer, Major Ron Smith and Bob Quaile, all of them regularly referring to him in their diaries as “Dave”. Wearing a broad black hat above his big bushy whiskers and mounted on his black and white horse, Courtney was always an unforgettable character arriving at the Kentish stock sales.
One morning in August 1926 Dave woke up to discover an adjacent hut a smoldering ruin. The previous night he had lit a fire in it to dry his clothes and thought it was out. He lost practically everything he owned, horse saddles etc plus a large quantity of kangaroo and possum skins. When Weindorfer’s died in 1932, Dave helped recover his Indian motorcycle and scientific instruments from Waldheim. Another memorable day for Dave was a Saturday in December 1938, when Geo Stubbs’ motor lorry towing a long trailer behind arrived at Middlesex. They were transporting three wooden boats to Waldheim that had been built in J W Brown’ boat-yard, West Ulverstone. The 12ft boat stacked inside the 16ft boat on the lorry were both for Dove Lake; the 14ft boat tied on the trailer behind was for Crater Lake. The accompanying support crews left their motor cars at Middlesex Plains, climbed into the boats to complete
their journey to Waldheim. From there the boats were placed on sledges and pulled by horses to their respective lakes.
Following bachelor John Field Jnr’s death in 1940, his two big blocks at Middlesex Plains were sold to F H Haines to clear for timber. Haines inherited some wild cattle, sheep and long-term employee Dave Courtney. But once the tree cutters moved in, Dave didn’t stay long. He retired to Harford where he lived in a hut behind Hannah Harrison’s historic Harford Hotel. With his broad bushy beard giving him a rather wild demure, patrons kidded him about being Ned Kelly’s brother. Dave died there Sept 1945 age 84.
Ben Brown b1912
In the early 1930s young Ben Brown of Deloraine spent time at Middlesex as a stockman earing 15/- a week. Fortunately, Ben was able to supplement his pay by snaring, once selling 991 kangaroo skins. Following in his father Thomas Brown’s footsteps, Ben begun working for John Field Jnr at Calstock when he was 14 or 15. However upon marrying Nellie Woodberry, Ben left Middlesex and bought a farm up Hampton’s road near Sheffield, where they raised their three children: Joan, Ron and Barry Brown.
2. Kentish Plains and Native Plains
William McCoy 1816 – 1911
Another of Field’s stockman William McCoy was born in Hobart in 1816. After commencing work for John T Field Jnr at Calstock, one early source has McCoy living as a stockman in Field’s new hut on Kentish Plains. As mentioned last time this slab hut was on land at 134 Old Paradise Road, currently owned by Matthew and Kathy Osbourne. About 1857 William McCoy (42) wed Mary Smith (19) a young woman who came with her parents from England. William and Mary were sent from Whitefoord Hills (Moltema) to set up home on the Native Plains over the Mersey river. Mary returned to the Whitefoord Hills estate for the births of each of her first four children.
In 1865 William and Mary McCoy purchased 80 acres up on the Kentish Plains from Thomas Johnson where their last six children were born. Their property, now 91 West Kentish Road, borders the Sheffield School Farm and is currently owned by Graham and Amanda Pump. Near here on 4 January 1871 the McCoy’s oldest son William Jnr. fell from a horse and with his foot caught in a stirrup, was dragged along the road. He died from a fractured skull aged 13y 4mths. In 1894 the McCoys moved to Claude Road where they became one of the first settlers on the slopes of Mount Roland. At least two sons Sam and Tom worked on William
Henry’s model dairy farm called Gowrie milking cows and making butter. William McCoy died from senility and a septic leg on 27 July 1911 aged 98 and was buried in the Claude Road cemetery.
James Febey 1831 -1916
Probably the last stockman to live in Field’s hut on Kentish Plains was James Febey who didn’t arrive there until a few years before Field’s lease expired in 1858. Born at Westminster London in 1831, James was sentenced to seven years transportation for stealing three half crowns in August 1849 but didn’t arrived in VDL in July 1852. Obtaining a ticket of leave, he commenced working for Tom Field at Westfield Westbury and sometime later sent to the Kentish Plains. When Field’s lease expired, Tom Field brought him back to Westfield, where in July 1859 James Febey (28) married Sarah Soden (17) at Westbury. Their first three children were born there, before the Febeys joined other Westbury families moving to Barrington as pioneer settlers about 1862-63. The remainder of their children were born at Barrington.
In the 1880s when James’ older sons were grown, they joined their father as road building contractors around the Barrington and Melrose districts. Following his wife Sarah’s death in November 1884, James Snr married Christine Morgan at Deloraine in 1892 and had four more children. On 3 October 1905 James (74) became a patient in the Devon Hospital Latrobe. After midnight while the night nurse was elsewhere, James opened a window, dropped 6ft to the ground and made off. He was found next morning in his pyjamas under a tree 200 yards away suffering from intense cold. James died at the home of his son James Frederick Febey Jnr of Claude road, on 27 June. 1916 aged 85
Next Article: The Convict Probation Station at Kimberley 1844-1848