James Elijah and Mary Unwin
Immigrants to their “Promised Land”
Chapter 1 – The Odyssey
In the County of Cheshire, England early 1870’s dark tales were being told by school teachers and seafaring men about a great island continent in the Antipodes known as the Great Southland or Australia. Many who went there were never heard from again. It seemed that it was still believed to be a land of desperadoes and awful men that had yielded great riches to a few but usually brought disaster to most who ventured there. This was in spite of the publicity by “Milk and Honey Jordon” nickname for the Queensland Government Agent in Britain
Even through 67,900 immigrants went to what was later to become the state of Queensland Australia from 1861 to 1870 and another 59,000 in the next decade, it wasn’t enough. Large numbers of laborers were still needed to build more railways, pioneer farms and harvest primary products. However, immigration doubled in the eighties when north England experienced economic depression.
At this time James Elijah Unwin was working as a lock gate keeper at Congleton, and so would likely have been able to support his family through hard times. However, by nature, he was inclined to be adventurous and would have been attracted by the idea of new horizons.
It is likely he listened to the stories told at the Mersy ports via the canal system, and wide awake enough to sort out the tall stories from fact. Not far from Congleton locks was an Elizabethan monstrosity of a building called Little Moreton Hall owned by a rich weaver. So passage to Moreton Bay in Queensland, Australia could not be worse than the look of that mansion. Reports were there was plenty of game to be hunted around Moreton Bay, even if the description of a beast called a wallaby (small kangaroo) was hard to believe.
Every time Elijah opened his Bible he would view a picture of Moses viewing the Promised Land. Then there was the story in the Book of Kings that described his namesake Elijah ascending to Heaven in a fiery chariot. A ship sounded much safer! This new Promised Land beckoned him strongly, and at last in the spring of 1883 he registered for immigration to Queensland in the Great Southland.
James Elijah and family were fortunate to have been allocated passage to Moreton Bay on the iron hulled sailing ship “Western Monarch” instead of one of the leaking wooden clippers that had been used to transport immigrants to Queensland over the previous two decades. However it was no pleasure cruise. Luggage was strictly limited and they could only bring practical necessities, among which were distributed a few pieces of sentimental value to comfort them in the new land. Specified clothing was mandatory. Men and women had to have two sets of exterior clothing, two pairs of strong shoes and six pairs of stockings each. In addition, men needed six shirts and two flannels and women, six shifts and two warm petticoats to complete their emigration kit.
Vaccination against smallpox was a prerequisite, and once aboard the migrants became the responsibility of the Surgeon Superintendent for Welfare, Health and Discipline. He was charged with rigidly adhering to a book of explicit instructions issued by the Queensland Government in 1868. The last paragraph read, “All gambling, fighting, riotous, disorderly behavior or quarrelsome conduct, swearing and violent or indecent language – are strictly prohibited,” with good reason judging from accounts of earlier voyages.
The Surgeon Superintendent was authorized to appoint assistants to help him enforce instructions. These were usually selected from the migrants. They included one mess constable for every fifty immigrants, a schoolmaster, a man in charge of water distilling, and a matron. Each was usually paid three to five pounds for services rendered at the end of the voyage. James Elijah qualified for four sovereigns.
The matron’s main task was to see single girls arrived at their destination undefiled. This was helped by locking them in the stern section of the ship, except when they were exercised on a small area of the deck under the watchful eye of the matron. Single men were billeted in the bow section and married quarters separated them from the girls. All occupied the “tween deck” of the ship’s hold which was just above the waterline. Below them was usually a cargo of railway lines, roofing slates or ship tanks filled with water or crockery.
These immigrants didn’t have natural light, except when weather was calm enough to allow hatches to be left off. Otherwise light came from hexagonal safety candle light horns. These were issued one to ten adults for the first hundred migrants and one per twenty adults thereafter. No matches, naked lights or smoking were allowed below decks and this was strictly enforced. Fire and mutiny were the two most feared hazards of a long sea voyage.
Boredom was a problem. This was recognized by “The English Ladies Emigrants Aid Committee.” They supplied calico, cotton print, patchwork and hooks and eyes for women and girls to work on the journey. The Queensland Government also provided a library and six prizes to encourage attendance at the Schoolmaster’s voluntary classes. The three eldest Unwin children attended.
Cleanliness was considered next to Godliness. Mess deck constables received lessons on hygiene from the Surgeon Superintendent, and Condy’s disinfectant and chloride of lime were issued in large quantities. However men folk only had one large cut down water cask and women two lead lined wooden tubs in which to take a bath. Fresh water was limited to three quarts per person per day for all purposes, as they could only distill a maximum of five hundred gallons a day. Migrants were supplied with food rations but had to arrange their own cooking. They were organized into messes of six to ten persons whose berths were contiguous. One was elected cook for the group. When bread was required for instance, the allowable weight of flour belonging to each mess was taken to the galley in a numbered mess tine. It was baked Monday, Wednesday and Friday. On those days as the oven wasn’t available meals were boiled in coppers, but no cooking was done on Sundays. The Captain made his weekly inspection at 10 am and after that a religious service was held. If there was no Church of England minister available the Surgeon Superintendent conducted a simple service in accordance with strict guidelines so as not to provoke religious contention.
The Captain was supreme authority aboard ship. His official title on documents was “Master under God,” but shipboard rules were also backed by Queensland Police. Any transgressors during the voyage were charged on arrival and prison sentences often served on an old hulk were the usual result. Ships were driven hard to reach their destination as quickly as possible by crew of about thirty officers and men. Comfort of immigrants was a secondary consideration. For half the period at sea decks were awash and passengers confined to quarters below deck. The voyage was a test of endurance.
The Unwin family voyage commenced twenty-two days after Tom Unwin’s twelfth birthday. The “Western Monarch” dropped the Liverpool pilot off at Port Lynus and headed for open sea on July 17, 1883 with 495 passengers aboard. Course was set to clear Canary Islands and then head past the eastern tip of Brazil. After the ship “crossed the line” and headed into southern tropical waters seamen’s third greatest fear eventuated. Thirty-eight immigrants ultimately caught typhoid. Meager hospital supplies were taxed to the limit. James Elijah helped care for victims, but succumbed himself toward the end of the voyage.
The Unwin children in retrospect saw the voyage as a breathtaking adventure. Tom was particularly impressed. Somehow he gained the indulgence of crew and was allowed to spend much time on deck. Two of the sea “chanteys” he learned at that time long remembered. Crew also backed him when he was involved in an altercation with the future Registrar General of Queensland over a tin of condensed milk. Tom wouldn’t allow anyone to put a finger into his “pie.”
Seamen are credited with superstition. During a storm off Cape of Good Hope Tom was swept overboard but managed to grasp a trailing rope and was hauled back aboard. Henceforth he commanded further regard as one of the “favored ones.” His father wasn’t so lucky. He very nearly joined the thirteen who died during that voyage; however by coincidence there were thirteen births to compensate. The Surgeon Superintendent’s health cracked under the strain.
Ship’s course continued southward until after passing Tristan de Cuna it headed east. The roaring forties drove the ship past the southern tip of Tasmania into the fringes of the Pacific Ocean. When far enough east the ship was headed north for their final destination, Moreton Bay. There they dropped anchor on October 1, 1883, seventy-six days from Liverpool and with the Surgeon Superintendent out of his mind. James Elijah was weak but his family survived the journey and were all well. They had reached the Promised Land at last.
Chapter 2 Pilgrim’s Progress
Moreton Bay would have been attractive in the spring of 1883 as it still is, but wild Strabroke Island would have done nothing to reassure the sea weary immigrants that they hadn’t literally come to the ends of the earth.
There was still only a small settlement at Durwich. It served as the quarantine station. Though the cemetery there testified to the perils of those who go down to the sea in ships they marveled at their new surroundings. Wildflowers were in full bloom and trees were of a different species.
For thirteen uncertain days they were kept in quarantine. Even though the “Western Monarch” obtained a health clearance in accordance with regulations, it wasn’t allowed to carry passengers to Brisbane Town. It has been suggested Sir Arthur Hunter Palmer KCMG then serving as administrator pending arrival of the Governor felt the population was still edgy after a smallpox scare the year before, and might object to a typhoid infected ship tying up at one of the town wharves.
James Elijah and family elected to make the journey by long boat which gave them good opportunity to take in new sights. They’d have been able to see the old Cleveland jetty where ships used to unload and the timber lighthouse standing at Wellington Point. The pile light had only been built a year before and had already earned the nickname “coffee pots.” There inbound ships were wont to tarry until a river berth was available.
Anything up to three ships could have been waiting at a time as Queensland was embarked on a widespread development program. Large quantities of pioneer goods and products were still being distributed through Brisbane.
Ship traffic would have been reassuring and sight of the hulk moored at St. Helena would have suggested a population large enough to produce enough wrong doers to occupy it. They wouldn’t have realized it had been moored at Hamilton Reach the year before to house expected smallpox victims.
However there wouldn’t have been much evidence of settlement other than bayside farms and even after traversing the boat passage into Brisbane River there would have been more mangroves than anything else to see. If they’d looked back once entering the river they’d have seen the steam dredges “Octopus” and “Groper” working on the bar at river’s mouth. The “Groper” must have been well made because it lasted as long as James Elijah and was decommissioned almost one hundred years later.
Their interest would have been attracted by the flag flying over Fort Lytton. Lytton Battery as it was then called was a closed lunette surrounded by a wet ditch thirty-five feet wide and eight feet deep. It was equipped with two six inch and two sixty-four pounder guns. It had been planned in 1877 and constructed by convict labor housed in a hulk and previously served as a reformatory for wayward boys. As a result the boys got new quarters erected on Signal Hill thereafter. The view must have been almost Gilbertian – A fort to defend a reformatory that overlooked it from only one thousand one hundred yards away. There was the undeveloped township of Lytton just beyond.
The Unwins must have wondered how long it was going to take to reach their destination. An official report stated “Brisbane the capital of Queensland principal centre of its commerce is situated thirteen miles by water from the mouth of the Brisbane River. A ship approaching Brisbane meets with great intricacies of navigation.”
The river was undeveloped until Hamilton Reach had been followed as far as Breakfast Creek. There on its right bank overlooking Bulimba Reach was the first sign of gracious habitation. Newstead House stood there almost as it is now, surrounded by trees and gardens. Further on busy Newstead wharves gave hint of healthy commerce and a passenger ferry claimed right of way across the river.
To their left scenery was largely rural, but on the opposite bank there was increasing evidence of roads and urban settlement. New Farm at that time was still a rural area, but smaller ships were able to use wharves opposite Kangaroo Point.
Kangaroo Point itself was the industrial centre at that time. On its Eastern side were Birleys Saw Mill and behind Sutton’s Foundry giving employment to three hundred men.
On rounding the point the Unwins would have been impressed by a large number of ocean going vessels loading and unloading at wharves. These extended all the way from Petrie Bight to the Botanical Gardens. On the opposite side of the river were Naval Depot and coal wharves dwarfed by quarried cliffs that looked almost the same one hundred years later. Excitement would follow on rounding Gardens Point for there they would see the roof of a majestic building called Parliament House. Wharves, ships and buildings extended both sides of the river as far as the eye could see and framed the first Victoria Bridge in the distance.
There were signs of progress everywhere. The old “Bell Vue” was being dismantled and no thought given to the fact history would repeat itself before another century passed. A social structure was already developed as evidenced by the Queensland Club building under construction nearby.
“It was a happy sight” old James Elijah said and hope rose in their hearts. They disembarked at the Old Queens Wharf just below the Commissariat building. On its lintel it carried the date 1829 but bustling surroundings buried thoughts about its convict past.
It took only three tin trunks to hold all their clothes and treasures, and they spent most of their money buying cooking utensils, blankets and a tent in which to live, “The Lord will provide” they said, and in time with their strength and courage, He did.
Chapter 3 – Working in New Surrounds
The Unwin family wasn’t allowed much time for sightseeing. They’d been brought to Queensland to work and were given little chance but to accept jobs with a contractor. He was extending the railway line from Logan Junction, which was renamed Yeerongpilly in 1893, to the Logan River.
The contract for this fifteen mile section had been awarded to Fountain Brothers, an experienced Queensland railway construction firm. The cost was to be thirty-five thousand pounds and work was to be completed by July 1, 1884.
The job was not easy, and their home was a tent. James Elijah worked as a “navy” for five shillings a day, six days a week. His eldest son Tom was engaged as a “nipper” carrying water for the men and breaking stones. Mary Unwin and Adam two of James Elijah’s other children also contributed to family finances by “knapping stone for ballast.” For this they received the contract rate on one shilling and sixpence (AUD 15 cents) per cubic yard. The result of their labor was incorporated in a two mile section of line parallel to what is now Beenleigh Road.
Extra formation work on this section plus the requirement to adopt a new alignment near Logan River gained the contractors a six month extension in time, but the work was finished in March 1885.
Another contractor named Overend had continued the line to Beenleigh by July 1885 and reached Logan Village two months later. As a result the Unwins were forced to take whatever casual work they could find.
James Elijah took a long time to lose the idea Australia was a land of opportunity. Somehow he heard about the rabbit plague in the state of New South Wales. His plan was to offer his services to squatters (farmers who occupied the land without title) as a paid rabbit catcher. Work around Brisbane being scarce he and his eldest son Tom took ship to Sydney to make their fortunes.
Together they made their way property by property across the south-west without receiving any financial encouragement at all. Astonishingly they persevered until they reached the banks of Murray River with empty pockets. They’d no alternative but to walk back to Brisbane, a journey of approximately one thousand two hundred kilometers.
They lived off the land as they went because James Elijah refused to beg. It wasn’t until they reached Northern Rivers district south of the present day Queensland border that they got their first paid job. There they heard of a farmer who had a large area of ripened corn that was full of snakes no local would touch. They took the job of harvesting corn because pride wouldn’t let them go home without money in their pockets. By the time they returned to Brisbane they’d walked almost two thousand kilometers.
Gradually Unwin family fortunes improved. In December 1887 George Bashford won the contract for extension of the railway from Logan Village to Southport and Nerang and the Unwin family was back on the line again.
The bridge over Logan River had been built by Overend and Company just two years previously but an unprecedented flood demolished it in January 1888. This delayed Bashford’s works and he was also required to build many extra flood openings as a result. When the replacement bridge neared completion railway authorities introduced B15 class engines. These were much heavier so the new bridge had to be strengthened before it could be used.
These problems affected Bashford’s construction schedule and as the year progressed his financial position worsened. Finally the contract was taken out of his hands and Queensland National Bank was persuaded to take over both financing and construction of the project. The Unwins were re-employed and their savings began to accumulate.
Chapter 4 – A place of their own
James Elijah’s greatest ambition was to have a property of his own. In 1886 a railway station was established at Moorooka. A little to the north of it and on the eastern side of the line between a section of Moolabin Creek known as the four mile swamp and the Ipswich Road was a piece of land he desired.
It was part of the Parish of Yerongpilly, County Stanley. Original owner of the whole portion was one T. Hughes according to the first sub-division survey. On 19 October 1885 it was apparently brought by Thomas Fredrick Merry
Almost east to west down the middle of his land ran an ever deepening gully that drained directly into Moolabin Creek. It was the clay in this gully that gave him inspiration to start Unwin brickworks.
Rumor had it the Unwins re-erected and modified a slab hut reputed to be over forty years old. If so, it must have been constructed by some of the first free settlers in the Southern Moreton Bay area and old James Elijah would have been following in their footsteps.
This old hut formed the detached back part of a newly constructed house, and its northeast and southeast corners were located on the rear boundary of the allotment. The house was divided into two rooms with two colonial window sashes in each. The larger room accommodated a neatly constructed fireplace and brick chimney built on to the otherwise blank west wall. Rooms were unlined but slabs were carefully fitted so neither wind nor rain could trouble occupants.
The separate front section of the house must have been built shortly afterwards because the rear slab section served as quarters for the men employed in the brick yard. This new addition was constructed according to a common custom of that time. Wall studs were left exposed on the outside and wide chamfer boards nailed to them from the inside.
A barn type roof covered the main centre portion which contained the main front bedroom, the hallway and front parlor. A much lower skillion roof was attached full length along the back. This covered the back bedroom and kitchen. A similar roof covered the front verandah which by some remarkable error extended into the footpath.
An orange brick fireplace was constructed on the northwest corner of the kitchen. It was seven brick lengths wide and four deep with walls one brick length in thickness. It stood on its own foundation and projected about half a brick width into the kitchen. The seven inch chamfer boards that formed the inside walls carried right up to the brickwork and were flashed externally to keep out weather.
Floors were made from ten inch wide planks. To prevent sparks from the fire setting it alight a sheet of galvanized iron was pushed under the flashing strip running full width of the brickwork. It was then nailed down. A mantle shelf extended full width above the arch to carry their chiming pendulum clock, Mary’s canisters, and a mug to hold tapers for lighting James Elijah’s pipe. A fire shovel hung on one side and a poker on the other. The chimney drew to perfection. Altogether it made fitting hearth for the first home of their own.
An elevated walkway connected the two sections of the house. It was floored with hardwood slats and railings were made of wood in a St. Andrews cross pattern. It was roofed with semi-circular corrugated iron tank sections and gave full shelter from the kitchen backdoor to the entrance to the old slab hut. Near the middle at right angles to the walkway was installed a set of four steps that connected directly with the path to the well.
It’s believed Thomas played a leading role in construction of the well. There was nothing elaborate about it. It was purely utilitarian in aspect and function and consisted of a circular hole in the ground about six feet deep. It was sunk into clay as its function was to serve as a cistern and store rain water from the roof. It was carefully lined with one thickness of sanstock bricks set in lime mortar.
A circular cover was made of timber slabs supported by the brick rim. Access to water was through a trapdoor located close to one side. As there was no windlass or other mechanical device water was obtained by lowering and raising a bucket attached to the end of a light rope.
There was little argument it was worth the trouble on a hot day because water was cool, clear and palatable. However it would be surprising if those who worked in the kitchen didn’t wonder why the well was not more conveniently located. It was enclosed on three sides by a four wire fence over which yellow honeysuckle had been trained to grow. A curving deep orange colored brick path led to back stairs and made the view from their back door a sight to remember.
The house served old James Elijah for more than forty years right up to the end of his days. Then not long afterward Thomas dismantled what he’d built and retrieved bricks for another purpose in another place.
The house always seemed to be simply furnished. In the slab hut the fire place was located right opposite the entrance. A long table with full length form each side ran parallel to the front wall. To the left of the fireplace was a bench used for preparing food. In the other room were the men’s bunks.
The kitchen in the main house was equipped with a white pine table that stood either in the middle of the room or against the west wall. James Elijah sat at one end and his wife at the other and visitors sat on a form. A pine dresser stood against the wall opposite the fire place and the end of the cedar food safe was aligned with the passageway diagonally opposite. This was probably to keep it in the coolest part of the kitchen. Alongside against the wall was a sofa with full length patchwork rug alongside.
The back bedroom had a three quarter bed in it complete with brass and china knobs and a washstand. The front bedroom was similarly equipped but had a full size bed with large oval hand made rug at its foot and a cedar chest of drawers which stood in the corner between the front and side windows
In later years James Elijah put his cot there instead. This enabled him to keep his eye on his hearth, his gun in the corner and look out the window as well.
Strangely no one can clearly remember the furnishings of the parlor. It always seemed dark because of curtains and honeysuckle that completely shielded the front verandah. It certainly contained Granny’s bentwood rocking chair and other chairs as well but it’s a matter for conjecture as to what else it contained.
Family was always happy to be entertained in the kitchen.
Chapter 5 – Making Bricks for a Living
When James Elijah and his family emigrated bricks and bread were still Britain’s basic industries. At that time the vast majority of both were still made by hand, as they had been for several thousand years. Brick making was an art rather than a science and its lore had been established well before the Romans brought the know how to Britain.
Until comparatively recent times no brick maker would understand what you were talking about if you said, “the material you need to make best building bricks must contain sufficient alumino silicate to give the ‘clay’ enough plasticity to be molded, as well as ability to hold its shape afterwards, but not enough to cause excessive shrinkage when drying, or cause cracking under the heat of ‘firing’.” The necessity to heat steadily to 900 to 1000 degrees C wouldn’t mean anything to old James Elijah either. All he’d know was bricks had to be gradually heated until they finally glowed the bright yellow of a sovereign coin if they were to become hard enough.
Where James Elijah acquired his brick making lore isn’t known for certain. However, Staffordshire blue bricks were renowned for their quality throughout England. No doubt he would have observed “brick earth” as locals called it being dug in the autumn and piled into heaps for the winter frosts to break down into smaller pieces. It was “tempered” in the spring by turning it over with a spade and “treading” or “pugging” it, usually with bare feet until it became of even consistency throughout. It is possible to imagine James Elijah’s speculative satisfaction in the spring of 1888 when he discovered suitable “brick earth” on his own land at Marooka.
His first task would have been to make brick moulds and a “molding stool.” Since he used what was called the “soft mud process” he made his moulds from beech wood because of its non-stick properties. As a matter of interest, Wedgwood pottery reliefs are still being made in beech moulds.
However, Brisbane’s climate necessitated a different method for preparing his “clay” for molding. He usually dug it in the evenings and watered it down before going to bed. From four am next morning, the day’s supply was tempered in time honored manner until breakfast time. Bare feet quickly found the stones that had to be discarded. The fortitude required in winter time must have been remarkable.
Throughout the day, a shovel called a “cuckold” was used to cut lumps of the tempered clay called “clots” for taking to the brick maker’s “stool” as required. Every clot meant climbing the ladder out of the clay pit. At this “stool” the brick maker practiced one of the earliest forms of time and motion study. The particular location of the two heaps of dry sand, the bowl of water, the stock and pallets on it were no accident.
With his right hand the brick maker sprinkled dry sand from the right hand heap onto the stool surface. With his left hand he wet his mould in the bowl or tub as it was called and placed it over the “stock,” over which he then sprinkled a little sand from the left hand pile. It was these operations that gave rise to the name “sandstock” bricks.
A helper then dumped enough “clay” for three bricks or so onto the sanded stool. The brick maker sliced a lump off this clot with this strike, kneaded it into rough brick shape and threw it with some force into the mould. He then wet his strike in the tub and cut off excess level with the top of the mould. Then he placed pallet on top, lifted the lot off the stock, turned it upside down and placed it on the “page.” The mould was then lifted off as quickly as possible.
The brick on its pallet was next slid along the “page” ready for the “taking off boy” that placed it on a brick barrow which was used to transport to the drying ground. Here they were usually laid out or “skintled” in a herringbone pattern to facilitate uniform drying. When the first row was half dry a second row was laid across it and so on until a “hack” of about eight rows high was built. These operations were the origin of two common expressions. It was on those occasions where heavy careful work was required they just “had to hack it,” and moreover the brick maker would be aghast if anyone “dropped a brick.”
These “hacks” had to be protected from rain and had to dry in the shade. James Elijah usually covered them with leafy branches instead of the straw used in Staffordshire. At the end of four to six weeks these “green” bricks were dry enough for “firing.”
This was done by burning them in “clamps,” that is piles of up to 100,000 bricks or enough to build seven houses of the time. It was a time honored but wasteful method because too many bricks were spoiled in the process. First of all a thick bed of brush wood was spread over the site and bricks were laid all over it. Another layer of brush was spread then another layer of bricks and so on. Several “flues” were left in the pile and these were also filled with brush to facilitate lighting. The whole stack was then encased in burnt bricks.
The clamp was then lit via the flues, and after the “clamp” was “fairly alight” these were stopped and the whole mass would be allowed to burn itself out. This usually took between three and six weeks.
There was much sorting to be done after a burning. Bricks on the outside of the “clamp” were always under burnt and were called “burnovers” meaning they had to be burnt again. Bricks that were only a little under burnt were called “place bricks” and were sold cheaply for indoor work. Those nearer the flues or “live holes” were called “clinkers” because they were partially melted and usually wasted. Only about three quarters of the bricks produced were saleable.
A “Scotch kiln” would have been far less wasteful but James Elijah would have nothing to do with these newfangled ideas proposed by his son Tom. In any case he and Adam had pioneered the enterprise. Tom and James Elijah were the brick makers and Adam (my Grandfather) was the helper, “clot maker” and “taking off boy.” Together they would dig, temper and form two thousand bricks per working day of fourteen hours less meal breaks. On top of this the “green” bricks had to be “skintled” for drying, brushwood collected, “clamps” built and fired, the bricks then sorted and delivered by dray. The then market price was twelve shillings and sixpence per thousand.
The brickyard hadn’t been operating long when architects started calling for pressed bricks in preference to the handmade product. Tom took the initiative and entered into an arrangement with a rival brick maker names Lyons to hire his brick press of an evening. Each night he and Adam would collect it, press their bricks and return it. However James Elijah wasn’t impressed. He didn’t believe pressing was necessary and kept on producing bricks in the old way.
But the brickyard prospered and at one stage employed three men. Richard Ezekiel Biddle who married James Elijah’s daughter Elizabeth, plus another two brick makers one of whom was named Whittaker. They worked like slaves. Women who looked after them were little better off, partly because of the washing. Brick makers worked in white moleskin trousers and liked t clean pair every day. Apparently they took hours to scrub clean. Perhaps these days it would be said James Elijah was concerned for his corporate image.
Brick making required a good water supply and this was provided from nearby Moolabin Creek. However 1893 flood waters reached fourteen feet deep and rose to a height of two feet in James Elijah’s own front parlor. The effect on the brick making venture was little short of disastrous. Though business recovered he decided to diversify into supplying cord wood. “Bakers Oak” was the preferred fuel at Paine’s Moorooka bakers. Gradually the firewood business supplanted brick making and the last Unwin bricks were believed to be burnt on the eve of Australia’s Federation.
Chapter 6 – Paradise Lost
Even so late as the year 1895 James Elijah hadn’t given up hope of making his fortune in the Promised Land and decided to exercise his right to take up a selection.
He accordingly approached the Lands Administration Commission for one of twenty-three portions in the Parish of Maroochy, County of Canning, Australia. This is close to where I live today. These had been mapped out in accordance with the design requirements of the 44th Section of the Crown Lands Act of 1884. They were intended to be small farms that varied in area between ten and twenty acres, and were offered to the public for unconditional selection.
Only after a selection had been approved was the survey made – “which may or may not have been strictly adhered to, but may have been varied if necessary in order to secure the most suitable positions for various lines of roads or as circumstances may render desirable” according to the explanatory note on the opening sales lithograph which was freely distributed to prospective selectors.
So it was that on November 4, 1895 James Unwin signed an application for Portion 264 V Parish of Maroochy. This was conditionally approved on November 5, 1895 and he became the lessee of Unconditional Selection 2712 Brisbane Land Agents’ District.
Sixteen days later Surveyor G C Reid was instructed to carry out the survey. He commenced on January 8 and completed on February 28, 1896. On March 10 he forwarded his report and field book catalogued as plan C.31.1580 to the Surveyor General. The report included the words – “been considerably delayed by the wet weather, had it not been for this plans would have been forwarded a month ago.”
The description of the land which was delineated over Portion 264 V on plan C.31.1580 indicated the Surveyor found a thickly timbered ridge on the north-east boundary adjoining the surveyed road that was eventually named Old Gympie Road.
This is now the southern and south-western boundary of the town of Yandina. The remaining two thirds of James Elijah’s selection consisted of gently sloping foothills leveling out to river flats all of which was covered by dense vine scrub.
The total area was fifteen acres. It was bounded on the south by a proposed one chain road and on the north-west by a common boundary with another selection designated 265 V.
Records show that James Unwin was debited a total of ten Australian pounds ($20) for the pleasure of acquiring this selection. This included five pounds for survey fees and five pounds for the first year rent.
Not long afterwards son Tom returned from working on the railway line in northern New South Wales and with great expectations they set off in horse and dray to carve out James Elijah’s future. The trouble was there was too much carving to be done. Two pair of hands just couldn’t make it a paying proposition before it ate up all his savings.
So it was back to brick making for them both until Tom went back on the railway line and James Elijah diversified into supplying bakers oak cord wood for Paines Bakery.
In retrospect there wasn’t really much alternative to relinquishing his dream of becoming a prosperous land holder. On February 16 1898 his lease was formally forfeited due to “non payment of rent for the year 1897,” and so this picturesque property passed out of Unwin hands.
This property was reopened for selection on May 17 1898 and was subsequently leased to one Christian Walter in 1900 as agricultural farm number 3738. This lessee later freeholded it on November 12 1908 for the sum of thirty eight pounds ($76)
It is interesting this bit of history had to be discovered by the only one of James Elijah’s great grandsons who could really understand the vision and the loss, my cousin Reg Howell who has now retired in the general area of James Elijah’s forfeited selection. Reg worked for the Queensland Land Administration Commission Brisbane before his retirement. As such he has been able to research and fully appreciate the current potential of this one time Unwin land, and agree with old James Elijah’s words, “It was Paradise lost!”
Note on chapter 6.
I now live within thirty kilometers of James Elijah’s forfeited selection. Yandina is part of a hundred miles of pristine golden beaches now called the Sunshine Coast, a prime international tourist destination. If the family now owned that forfeited property it would be worth millions of dollars in today’s property values.
Chapter 7 – The Woman behind James Elijah Unwin
James Elijah’s wife Mary Proctor had already passed sixty when her eldest surviving grand-daughter first remembers calling her “Granny.” She remembers her as a darling who always invited her to have a drink and a “butty” whenever she visited her.
A younger grandson recalls her as a small dignified lovely old lady who always seemed to be hovering around to see everyone was attended to with cups of tea and “summat to eat.” She also had the nice faint smell of lavender about her and always looked the same with her hair drawn back tight with a bun at the back. Other grandchildren retain the impression she kept very much in the background and never had much to say. However, there’s little doubt when she did say something it was worth remembering. Even James Elijah was heard to remark “she has the gumption.”
Apparently she always had a ready ear to listen to childhood concerns and was full of encouragement. Though she was a practically minded lady she wasn’t without sentiment and rarely refused an invitation to show her grandchildren her “treasures.” A favorite was her richly decorated silver handkerchief box because in it was a tiny glass phial containing a drop or two of attar of roses. The heady perfume it gave out kept imagination busy for hours afterward.
Then there was a marvelous square of multi-colored silk she’d woven long ago when she worked as a “silkpiecer” in far away Macclesfield UK as a youth. It was an honor to be allowed to use her pen and inkstand with its dark blue and bright red ink. She would on rare occasions take down a willow patterned serving plate and tell the story it portrayed. However these pleasures gave no hint of the hard life she’d led.
Life in the railway camps would have been difficult but brickyard days must have been even more demanding. She not only provided meals for brick makers but boarded them as well. Shortage of money made it necessary to live off the land as much as possible. Granny and the girls did the farming. Their vegetables were grown with water they carried from Moolabin Creek and pioneer style housekeeping wasn’t easy.
It was an art to coax a good cooked meal out of her open fire place. She never did have the benefit of a stove. Iron cooking pots and kettle were suspended over an open fire from chains hanging from the gantry. This could be swung outward to allow safe access to the pots. The hob was mounted on the opposite side of the fireplace. A Dutch oven that stood below it was used for baking bread and damper.
Granny was Chatelaine of the establishment. In England tea was so expensive it was kept in a locked tea caddy. It had two compartments, one for new tea and the other for dried tea leaves and she long held custody of the key. Old habits died hard.
The phrase “waste not want not” was often heard from her. Her word was paramount in both home and garden. She also accepted responsibility for the pigs, fowls and cow and family wellbeing. She was well versed in the lore of herbs and simples.
She knew the culinary herbs mint, parsley, sage, thyme, lettuce and watercress had their uses and her flower garden provided cornflowers, daisies, honeysuckle, lavender, nasturtiums and violets. Maidenhair, lime tree flowers and strawberry plants yielded medicinal substances as well. Even weeks weren’t overlooked. Chickweed, dandelion, red clover, nettle and scotch thistle were used on occasion according to James Elijah. However it was still considered necessary to specially cultivate centaury, chamomile and marshmallow to deal with specific needs.
These plants were gathered in spring or early summer when the moon was on wane for the sap was down then, and dew had evaporated from leaves. They were then hung in bunches in a well-ventilated dry place away from direct sunlight. James Elijah used to use one of the rooms in the rear quarters for this. Once plants were dried they were broken up under the rolling pin and stored in a dry clean jar to be used for up to three years.
Aunt Lizzie used to prepare centaury tea by pouring a pint of boiling water over an ounce of the dried herb and leaving it to cool for three to four hours. She would then pour it into bottles and seal them with muslin. For some unknown reason a cork couldn’t be used. The infusion had to be stored in a cool dark place and any not drunk within four days was thrown out. It is assumed Granny followed the same procedure. Only a few of her recipes were recorded.
Her sleeping mixture was made from three dried ingredients, red clover heads, lettuce and hops. One cupful of the infusion was supposed to be drunk before going to bed. A pillow stuffed with hops was apparently an old Staffordshire UK remedy for insomnia if you could afford it.
Centaury was used as a disinfectant for cuts and sores and taken internally for the good of liver and feet. Chamomile smelled like over ripe apples. It was used to banish worms, cure ulcers, pep you up and wash face and hair. Marshmallow was for chest and two teaspoons of dried violet leaves in a breakfast cup of water was used to treat pleurisy. This was supposed to dissolve gall stones and relieve heart pain and headaches as well.
Honeysuckle grew around the well. The flowers were eaten raw as a cold cure and for the good of James Elijah’s heart and rheumatism. Dandelion leaves were also eaten raw to relieve arthritis. Beside use as perfume and infusion from the dried flowering sprigs of lavender was another cough remedy, mouth wash for sore gums and nerve tonic.
Granny’s garden must have been wonderful in its heyday because even three decades after the turn of the century its ruins were a delight to some of her grandchildren. Guavas, Brazilian cherries, cape gooseberries, China flat peaches, persimmons, oranges, lemons and limes had all at one time or another contributed to her preserves and cordials. Mariana black grape and sweet white grape vines were still producing prolifically, and the herb garden still yielding its parsley, mint, thyme, centaury, marshmallow and here and there a sprig of lavender in the early 1930’s Chilli bushes grew wild and chilli wine made to her old recipe is still a shock to the uninitiated.
Granny was also something of a philosopher and lived according to a very rigid code. She used to say, “Little girls are made of sugar and spice and all that’s nice” but when they grew up she expected them to be responsible and dutiful, able to cope with life as uncomplainingly as she had. During the brickyard days her daughter-in-law Alice had reason to remember this attitude. One morning at 4 am when she wasn’t feeling well she asked her husband to get up and light the fire for her. Granny must have had keen hearing because she said, “Tom didn’t marry thee to have him wait on ye.” Alice dutifully got up.
In spite of this Granny had a soft spot for immigrant girls and would take them into her home until they could get settled. There still exists a toy china teapot a souvenir from the Crystal Palace Exhibition given to her by a girl named Hetty in appreciation for such kindness.
Granny’s relationship with James Elijah and vice versa seems to have been a mix of mutual regard and autocracy. Each admitted to strenuously defending particular rights. She freely condoned her husband’s weekly sojourn at the Rocky Water Holes or some other pub. If he didn’t arrive home at the expected hour she would send Bosun their dog to find him. Then she’d help him home and put him to bed.
On one occasion it’s reputed she discovered him sitting in one of the Rocky Water Holes “full of the Lord” complaining about the cold but making no effort to get out. That was acceptable, but when he clumsily dropped her chamber pot and broke it he had a duty to replace it. This caused him no end of embarrassment but she was adamant. After he’d used up all his excuses he threw caution to the wind, went to a store and asked the girl behind the counter for a “nip under.” When she couldn’t understand what he wanted he finally whispered in her ear, “You know, one of those things you use at night and then nip under the bed.” A sale was made and Granny kept an appropriate ornament to mark the occasion.
She also knew how to keep her own counsel. James Elijah insisted on having a good breakfast and his daughter-in-law was rostered to cook it. One day she’d let the bacon run out and a great fuss was expected. However some months before a corned hind leg of calf had been put in the chimney to smoke as an experiment. James Elijah commented on the excellence of the “ham” and Granny never cracked a smile. She also remained silent when his daughter Elizabeth cooked a nice plump field rat at his son Tom’s instigation.
In spite of hard work her early years at Moorooka were remembered as happy ones. Many were the times when rafters rang with singing. Earlier days on the railway line had introduced them to numbers of Irish immigrants and from them they’d learned to appreciate the beauty of songs such as “The Minstrel Boy, Kathleen Mavorneed, I’ll take you home again Kathleen and the Rose of Tralee.” These were Granny’s favorites, but almost every sing-song ended with the part humorous and part nostalgic song, “The Old Home.”
Daughter Elizabeth married about a year after they acquired the Moorooka property and son Tom followed two years later. All lived at Granny’s place until they were able to establish their own home. In the meantime collective achievements were remarkable. They made the old place bloom. Gradually their reputation as honest, hardworking and dependable people spread throughout the district. It’s reputed that Granny used to say, “A man’s word might be his bond, but so is a woman’s.” If she agreed to help someone out there was no doubt she would and many a local child was ushered into the world with Granny’s help.
Heartbreak caused by the 1893 flood can only be imagined. For many years the ’93 flood high water mark was clearly visible on the front and sides of her red cedar kitchen safe. James Elijah gave his “Polly” full credit for the “ridding and fettling” (clearing and cleaning) after the flood. He had a family photo taken to mark the occasion.
This flood was only a temporary set back because hearsay suggests they still had their sing-songs and parties. Youngest daughter Prudence recalled the time she decorated the old home for one memorable occasion. As night progressed party guests one after the other became feverish. Granny finally discovered the little red spots in that leafy decoration were bird’s eye chillis.
Toward the close of the century her children were all following their own pursuits and the brickyard had virtually ceased operation. There was now only James Elijah in continuous residence in the old house so she had him to care for and garden and grandchildren to enjoy. Perhaps the easy life didn’t suit her or she was wearing out for in 1909 she fell so ill with chest problems her granddaughter Alice went to live there for a year to look after her. A Photograph of them taken on her front veranda the following year at age seventy shows the uncharacteristic leanness in her face.
She became seriously ill again not long after the end of the Great War and her son Tom’s wife Alice accompanied by great granddaughter Alice Sherwood lived in the old house to care for her. Then in the early 1920s she had a fall and broke her thigh so was moved into daughter Prudence’s nursing home at Yeronga. Her other daughter Elizabeth would travel by train from Moorooka to help as much as she could but there wasn’t much that could be done. In those days the only treatment was to pack sandbags around her to limit painful movement.
Norman Behan, Prudence’s second son recalls Granny’s patience and how she would spend hours running material through her fingers as if she was making something. One time she shredded a mosquito net to pieces in the belief she was helping Prue and Liz. Perhaps she was reliving her past as a silk weaver.
In spite of discomfort she only complained when being moved and bathed and could still raise a laugh when Norman’s elder brother Bill would say, “How’s Mrs. Slap Cabbage today?”
They kept her for some time at Yeronga before heart failure took her on June 21, 1923. She was sadly mourned by her family whose memories were of a “very loving old lady.”
Mary (Proctor) Unwin was born May 11, 1840 in Quarnford, UK and died Brisbane, Australia June 1923 at age 83. She and James Elijah Unwin were married in Macclesfield UK July 18, 1870
This story is based on research done by the Unwin Descendants’ Committee and the report given to descendants assembled for the 100 year celebration 1883 – 1983. James Elijah Unwin was my Great Grandfather on my Mother’s side.
“© Copyright Ian Grice 2013 on behalf of the Unwin Family. All rights reserved”