Military men and their families provided a large proportion of Australia's early settlers. Much has been written about the officers who administered the early colony, and of the military explorers who traced the rivers and commanded distant settlements. This is the story of a private soldier and his colleagues, and their contribution to the early settlement west of the Blue Mountains.
Michael Keenan was born about 1797 in the parish of Durrow, then in the county of Kilkenny but now in County Laois, Ireland. Nothing is known of his early life until he joined the army, but like many Irish at that time, he would have seen a career in the army as an escape from poverty and as a life of adventure and travel. On 30 January 1816, when the regimental recruiting party was in Kilkenny, Michael took the King's colours for unlimited service in His Majesty's 94th Regiment of Foot (the Scotch Brigade). He was 19 years old, 5'8" tall, with fair hair, blue eyes and a round face.1
The Scotch Brigade was raised in Scotland in 1793, but had links with an older Scottish regiment which had fought with the Dutch in the mercenary days. The regiment fought in the Indian wars of 1799-1807, then in the Peninsular war under Wellington, before being stationed in Ireland from 1814.2
Michael's career with the 94th was not to be so exciting. In March he marched to Dublin with the regiment, and spent the next year training, drilling and on ceremonial and guard duties. A year later, the regiment moved to Belfast.3 Then in October 1818 the blow fell: as part of the great reduction following the Napoleonic wars, all regiments numbered higher than the 93rd were to be disbanded. On 24 December 1818 the Scotch Brigade paraded in Belfast for the last time; its officers went onto half pay, the long-serving soldiers to a pension, some of the soldiers to other regiments where they could find vacancies, and the remainder, including Michael, were discharged in Belfast.4 It is not clear how much notice he had been given of his redundancy, but possibly not much; The London Times announced the reductions of "upwards of 30,000" men only on 28 October.
Six weeks before his discharge, on 15 November 1818 in Belfast, he married Susannah Lennon,5 aged about 16 and the daughter of steward Thomas Lennon and Dina (or Mary) Cremilton of Belfast.6 The couple's movements for the next two years are unknown, but life would have been difficult. Not only was there widespread unemployment following demobilisation, but without the war to fuel demand, prices for grain and other agricultural stocks fell, leading to even less employment, and depression and unrest.
On 24 January 1821 Michael re-enlisted, this time in the 39th Regiment (the Dorsetshires) which was based temporarily in Dublin. The Dorsetshires had arrived in Ireland from France in 1818, and had been engaged almost immediately in aiding the civil power to quell disturbances in County Mayo. In March 1821 outrages in the southern province of Munster were beyond the civil authorities' control, and the military were despatched to assist. Michael was in a party of 150 of the regiment to march from Dublin to Cork in eleven days, no doubt with Susannah walking along behind with baby son Thomas Michael . The regiment spent the next four years deployed in the counties of Cork, Kerry and Limerick in small detachments, chasing criminals, guarding prisoners, escorting officials, attending fairs and markets to quieten riots, and other duties in support of law and order. Michael apparently was not present at the two major "battles" in 1822 against the whiteboys at Millstreet and Ichigeelagh in Co Cork, being detached at Duagh Co Kerry at the time.7
As Michael marched around the countryside with his company, Susannah followed. The barracks were crowded and unsanitary, and where there were no barracks, Michael was billeted in wayside inns, sharing the room, and sometimes the bed, with other members of his company.8 Susannah earned her keep by doing washing, mending etc for other members of the company. In about 1824 in County Limerick another child, Maria, was born.
In July 1825 the regiment received the exciting news that it was to move to Chatham near London in preparation for deployment to New South Wales.9 For Michael, now in 10 Coy, the big question was, would Susannah and the children be allowed to accompany him? The old regulations permitting only six wives per hundred men to embark for foreign service had been amended, and now twelve wives per hundred men were allowed to accompany their husbands to New South Wales and India.10 Whether a ballot took place amongst the wives is unknown, but when in November 1825 Michael and his company sailed from Cork to Chatham in the last party to leave Ireland,11 Susannah and the two children were with him.
Chatham Barracks are about 30 miles from London, surrounded by Roman ruins and next to the historic royal dockyard. But there was no time for sightseeing. By January 1826 Michael was on duty at Sheerness, possibly guarding the convicts in the hulks moored there. Finally notice arrived to embark. Michael and Susannah, along with 31 rank and file, Adjutant Lieutenant Thomas Meyrick and wife, and Ensign Buckley, were to take passage as guard for 100 male convicts on board the ship Woodford, master Edward Chapman and surgeon James Dickson.12 On 17 July the party set off from Chatham on the two-day march of 28 miles to Deptford dockyard where the ship was being fitted out for the voyage.13 One hopes Susannah was allowed to ride on the baggage cart because she was nine months pregnant. On 20 July the ship sailed for Portsmouth to collect its cargo of prisoners,14 and gained an extra passenger en route Susannah gave birth to a son on 21 July. On arrival at Portsmouth the local priest, Abbé François Delarue, baptised the new baby John Woodford Keenan on 30 July15 and the ship sailed for Van Diemen's Land on 5 August.16 After reaching Hobart on 22 November, the convicts were landed and the ship took on 800 sheep, 20 bales of wool and some human passengers for the journey to Sydney, where it arrived on Christmas Day 1826.17
Although Surgeon Dickson treated several members of the guard and their families during the voyage, there is no mention of Susannah's confinement or of the Keenan family in his journal,18 so we assume the remarkable Susannah managed to care for herself and her baby throughout the long voyage. But sadly, the heat and conditions on board and in the Sydney barracks took their toll, and baby John was buried in Sydney on 13 February 1827 by Church of England clergyman Richard Hill.19
Employment for the soldiers in Australia was not dissimilar to their activities in Ireland. Where they had been chasing whiteboys, the problem was now the bushrangers usually escaped convicts who subsisted by plundering outlying farms and by holding up travellers on the roads for money and guns. In March 1826 Governor Darling had formed two patrol "districts" as areas of operation against the bushrangers.
Michael and Susannah spent the first year in Sydney, where Michael was employed on guard, sentry and ceremonial duty. A second daughter, Elizabeth, was born there on 18 December.21 By April 1828 he was at Parramatta, and by September he had been transferred to the Bathurst district and for six months was stationed at Weatherboard Hut (now Wentworth Falls) in a small detachment of one sergeant and ten soldiers. From April 1829 he was at Bathurst, with Susannah and the three children living in the military barracks which had been built on the founding of Bathurst in 1815. The commandant at Bathurst was Major Donald McPherson, second-in-command of the 39th Regiment.22
Life was hard and dangerous, and troop numbers inadequate for the tasks in the growing colony. As well as the patrol tasks in the outlying districts, the 39th Regiment had to provide troops to guard the penal settlements at Norfolk Island and Port Macquarie, and the distant settlements at Raffles Bay near Darwin and King Georges Sound in Western Australia, both settlements being commanded by 39th Regiment Officers. Then there were the soldiers detached to the Mounted Police, who did much work pursuing the mounted bushrangers. Successive governors petitioned for more troops, Governor Darling reporting in May 1827 that the men on duty, "without allowing for extra Duties, [spent] scarcely two nights in Bed".23 But the expanding empire, which since the end of the Napoleonic wars now stretched around the globe, required ever more troops for garrison duty, and no more could be spared for New South Wales.
The role of guarding convicts was tedious and exhausting, and many soldiers were unhappy that convicted felons enjoyed the privilege of tickets of leave after as little as four years' servitude, and a grant of land on expiration of sentence, whereas they were enlisted for unlimited service and had to endure 21 years or be invalided out before they could leave the service on a pension. During Governor Darling's time, Privates Sudds and Thompson had even committed crimes in an attempt to be sentenced to transportation and therefore dismissed from the army.24
The most significant event during Michael's time in Bathurst was the pursuit and capture of the Ribbon Gang. In 1829 the convict Ralph Entwistle had allegedly been swimming naked in the river when Governor Darling and his entourage drove by. Although not seen by the governor's party, Entwistle was ordered to be flogged by Police Magistrate Lieutenant Evernden.
A year later Entwistle emerged as the leader of a gang of rebels who embarked on a series of armed robberies, then arrived at Evernden's property and murdered his overseer. The parties who pursued the gang for over two weeks included a civilian posse, the mounted police from Bathurst and Goulburn, the detachment of the 39th stationed at Bathurst, and reinforcements from the 39th who marched from Sydney in time to surround the gang and force their surrender on 14 October 1830.25
Governor Darling issued an order praising the activities of all concerned, especially the 39th Regiment, and ordered the Supreme Court to sit at Bathurst on 29 October for the trial of the ten captured men.26 This was the first time the NSW Supreme Court had sat outside of Sydney. All ten men were found guilty and sentenced to death.
Father John Joseph Therry, Catholic priest, on hearing of the trial while in Goulburn, petitioned the governor on 25 October for a supply of fresh horses along the route to Bathurst so that he could attend the men in the inevitable event of their being capitally convicted.27 He was given approval for a fresh horse from the Emu Plains establishment, and arrived at Bathurst in time to administer to nine of the ten men who were all hanged on 2 November.28
While Father Therry was in Bathurst the first time a Catholic priest had crossed the mountains he celebrated mass for the Catholic community. On the same day, 2 November, he baptised the latest Keenan arrival; Ann had been born on 16 October 1829 at Bathurst but Michael and Susannah had not been able to see a priest in the intervening year.29 Then, tragically, with all the excitement and activity, three-year-old Elizabeth wandered into the creek and was found drowned. She was buried by the Church of England minister the Reverend Espy Keane on 4 November, Father Therry having already departed.30
By the end of 1831 the family had moved to Sydney, and in May 1832 back to headquarters at Parramatta and the regiment had orders to depart for India the following July. Despite all the hardship and the tragedy of the loss of two children, Michael and Susannah could see the opportunities for settlers in the expanding colony. Further, new regulations had arrived which gave more generous conditions for obtaining a discharge and settling on the land.31 Michael applied for discharge, and on 30 June 1832, after 14 years with the colours, he became a civilian settler.32
The new regulations allowed soldiers to apply for a discharge with benefits on a sliding scale, depending on years of service.(See Appendix 3.) To a soldier with 14 years' service such as Michael, the purchase price was only £5 instead £20 as it was previously an enormous difference to a man earning 7 pence per day (about £10.13.0 per year). Men closer to retirement received a gratuity, but forfeited all rights to a pension and a free passage home. The new army regulations were very popular with the soldiers of the 39th Regiment. A maximum of 36 soldiers per corps per year were normally to receive the benefit, and perhaps many more applied, because the pay and muster records show that exactly 36 soldiers from the 39th were in fact granted a discharge in 1832.33
Free land grants had come to an end, and discharged soldiers had to bid at auction like the rest of the community. But they were remitted up to £25 of the purchase money provided they signed a bond to reside on and cultivate their land for seven years.34
Governor Bourke noted in July 1832 the large number of soldiers applying for land and tasked the Surveyor-General, Major Thomas Mitchell, to find them suitable small farms within their means, away from the city, and on good ground.35 Soldiers who had not found locations for themselves were directed to a special auction of 31 allotments for discharged soldiers and small settlers held 1 October 1832,36 and 12 soldiers of the 39th Regiment purchased, including nine at Maroota, near Wiseman's Ferry.37
Michael did not have to attend the special auction, because he knew where he wanted to settle on Major Mitchell's new road to Bathurst. During his time in the army he must have marched, walked or scrambled up and down Mount York on the old Bathurst road many times. He would also have seen the prosperous trade being done by Pierce Collits in his inn at the foot of Mount York, catering to travellers resting before and after negotiating the notorious Cox's Pass. But in 1830 the Surveyor-General had marked out a new line to Bathurst via Mount Victoria, which by-passed Mount York and Collits' inn and which travelled under Hassans Walls. By the time Michael was taking his discharge, Victoria Pass was almost opened. Michael was determined to own the first inn on the new road.
On Monday 2 July 1832 Michael submitted his application to have 80 acres at Hassans Walls put up for auction. At the same time he presented a memorial to Governor Bourke:
... that Memorialist was discharged from the 39th Regiment on the 30th ultimo for the purpose of settling in the Colony; wishes to locate at the junction of the old and new line of road to Bathurst, near Hassans Walls; and having a heavy family depending on his exertions for support, humbly hopes your Excellency will be graciously pleased to grant him a free license, for such time as your Excellency may choose, to keep an inn at that place, there being no house of entertainment on the new line of road between Mount Vittoria and Bathurst and for which act of kindness Memorialist will as in duty bound ever pray.39
His memorial was supported by a glowing reference from his old boss at Bathurst, Major McPherson.
I hereby certify that I have known this Memorialist for the last twelve years, that he has always been a steady, sober and active soldier, and is bringing up a large family in a most creditable manner. I therefore respectfully recommend his case to the favourable consideration of His Excellency Major General Bourke.
The Governor was amused at Michael's enthusiasm, and wrote that "it is not usual for persons to apply for a license before it is known whether they will obtain the land or not". Nevertheless he approved his land selection, his application was gazetted on 20 August, and Surveyor James Byrne Richards was tasked to measure out 80 acres each for Michael and fellow soldier William Akhurst at Hassans Walls prior to auction on 30 November.
When Surveyor Richards arrived in October 1832 Michael and family were already living on the block,40 and their hut is shown on Richards' plan.41 Both Michael and William Akhurst were the successful bidders for their lots at the auction, and Michael was ready to start business just five weeks after Governor Bourke opened Victoria Pass on 23 October 1832.42
Michael's colleagues, who had bought on 1 October, were not so happy, and their distress is clear from their letters.43 They had visited their lots at Maroota, and were devasted by what they found. On 11 December Herbert Green wrote to the Collector of Internal Revenue:
I went to my Farm at Maroota in company with Patrick Davenny and on five lots could not find one acre fit for cultivation.
John Butcher was even more disgusted. He wrote:
I have been on my land at Maroota, and went all over it, and found it to be nothing but sand and rocks, and it is not no Service to any person and so I hope you will be kind enough to allow me to select to another spot, or else to give me a situation, and I will have nothing to do with the land.
James Emms wrote from Parramatta:
I humbly beg to state to you that according to instructions I received, I proceeded with my wife and family to occupy the 100 acres of land that I purchased on the 1st October last at Maroota, together with two more of my comrades and their families, but to my great inconvenience and loss the whole of my allotment would scarcely keep a Cow, and as to cultivate any of it no person could attempt, as it is nothing but gravel and sand. Under these circumstances I trust that you will bring my situation under the notice of His Excellency Governor Bourke with a hope that he will be graciously pleased to allow me to select a similar number of acres on Government ground, so as it may enable me to make out a living for myself and family, as I am now left destitute of any support, after my long servitude in the army of upwards of 19 years and the compensation I received of one year and half's pay is gone altogether from the expense I have been at.
George McGrath petitioned the governor direct:
I have taken the liberty of addressing Your Excellency, to inform you that I received my discharge from His Majesty's 39th Regiment of Foot after a period of 22 years and 11 months servitude, for the purpose of settling in the Colony; that I did purchase a quantity of Land agreeable to His Majesty's regulations with the intention of settling with my wife and 4 children upon it; that upon my arrival there I found the soil to be composed of so poor a nature (being nothing but rock and sand) that it would be impossible to cultivate it so as to make a livelihood for myself and family; that I do most humbly petition Your Excellency to allow me to make another selection of land that will enable me to support my wife and 4 small children.
It is not clear why these Maroota lots were included in list prepared for the auction. It was not the doing of Major Mitchell, who had advised the Colonial Secretary in January 1830 that the land quality at Maroota was not good enough for veterans' grants.44 We have to admire the soldiers' courage in being prepared to try again, especially as many of them had joined the army before the age of 18 and had no experience in farming. The end result was the Governor ordered that their selections be resumed and that they be allowed to select elsewhere. And thus it was that on 8 November 1833 George McGrath and John Butcher purchased again, and joined Michael Keenan and William Akhurst at Hassans Walls.45
Two more colleagues purchased adjacent to the four friends. John Cox also bought at auction on 8 November 1833,46 and Joseph Phillips of the 17th Regiment on 9 May 1834,47 and they set up along the new road, under bond to reside and cultivate their land for seven years.
Of the six soldiers, only William Akhurst decided farming was not for him. On 13 November 1833 Akhurst sold his land to William Orrell for £50, half to be paid now, and half when he could hand over the deeds. Because of Akhurst's bond of residence, his deeds were retained by the Collector of Internal Revenue, so the sale was surreptitiously completed by deed poll and not registered with the Registrar of Deeds as a "legal conveyance". Orrell died in about 1837,48 and Akhurst evidently thought he could resurrect his ownership of the land. But apparently unknown to Akhurst, before he died Orrell re-sold the land on 18 March 1835 for £100 to Philip Mylecharane, a free immigrant from the Isle of Man, which sale was properly conveyed and registered. Mylecharane, who may have occupied the land from at least 1833,49 built a substantial stone dwelling and expended "upwards of £800" on the property before he found Akhurst would not hand over the deeds. Fortunately for Akhurst and unfortunately for Mylecharane, by 1839 when Akhurst was claiming his deeds, the requirements of the bond had been abandoned by the government. The deeds were issued to Akhurst, who sold again to another soldier, Thomas Kellett for £200 in 184250 and eventually Mylecharane re-purchased his property from Kellett for £250 in May 1842.51
If Michael was given a free publican's license it was only for six months, because in June 1833 he appeared before the licensing court in Bathurst with his two sureties, and subsequently paid £25 for a year's license to sell wine and spirituous liquors.52 The regulations were quite strict he had to provide two sitting and two sleeping rooms for overnight guests, his innkeeper's sign must be lit at all times, he must keep the premises clean and orderly, and he must not serve intoxicated persons. Above all, he must not harbour convicts nor sell them liquor.53
Michael's other business venture was the post office. Pierce Collits of Collits Inn at Mount York had been appointed a deputy postmaster in 1831, but had resigned the position in 1833. On 8 July 1834 the Hassans Walls Post Office opened at the Travellers Inn54 a badly needed facility as according to the Post Office Directory of 1836 the Hassans Walls postal district stretched from James Dalgarno of "Mudgee, Hassans Walls" in the north to the various settlers at the Fish River in the south-west and to Mount York in the east. Mail was carried twice-weekly across the mountains by contract in a new mail cart, and the deputy postmaster had to meet the mail cart, sort the mail and post a list of addressees on the notice board outside the building. For mail that was not "post paid", he collected the postage before handing over the articles. Mail not collected was returned to Sydney and eventually appeared in the lists of unclaimed letters in the newspapers and government gazette.55 In August Michael was assigned a convict errand boy to help with the business.56
But like Collits before him, Michael soon found the post office to be a non-paying concern. The deputy postmasters were not paid a salary but earned 20 per cent commission on the revenue collected by them. But official mail was "franked", ie carried for free, as was mail to convicts, and the soldiers paid only one penny for private mail.57 As the free population was so small, so was the mail earning Michael a commission. On 6 May 1836 Michael wrote to his boss, Postmaster James Raymond:
I avail myself the opportunity of acquainting you that my determination is to resign the situation of Deputy Postmaster of this district as I am quite incapable of maintaining means to continue any longer than this present month as business will not allow me to neglect what will profit me most. Losing time in pursuing of so many responsibilities of which I am labouring under at this present time, dear Sir, I hope I have given you due notice of my resignation. You will please pen me a few lines on the above so that I may prepare to leave and quit the situation.58
Raymond reported that Henry Dalway, newly appointed Clerk of the Bench of Magistrates at the Vale of Clwyd, would take on the job, because "the abandonment of the Post Office in that District must be of vast inconvenience to the Government and there being no other person at a convenient place between Penrith and Bathurst with whom the safe keeping of the Government Despatches and letters could be entrusted." There was a problem with Dalway's temporary location in the old huts under Mount Victoria, "being off the road and so situated that I cannot require nor would it be possible that the Mail Cart could drive to it with any degree of safety or convenience it lying some hundred yards under a steep declivity near the foot of Mount Victoria".59 Temporary arrangements were made, however, and the change was gazetted on 24 May 1836. The problem was permanently solved when the Hartley court house was opened in December 1837 and the bench, and the post office, moved to Hartley.60
Even though the post office had moved, clearly the Travellers Inn was the centre of the little community at that time. A graveyard was established at the bottom of Michael's land, overlooking the creek. The earliest surviving headstone is dated 3 October 1834, and none of the seven known burials in that isolated and peaceful spot is recorded in the registry of births, deaths and marriages.
Other inns were opened along the stretch of road under Hassans Walls. After being fined by the Bathurst bench for illegally selling spirits, in 1836 Philip Mylecharane opened "The Eagle and Child" named after a Manx legend, initially with James Rossie as publican61 then from 1838 under his own license.62 George McGrath, too, was in the spirits business whenever he could get away with it.63 On 27 May 1836 he was fined £30 for retailing liquor without a licence.64 In 1839 "The Beehive" inn was established on his property with William Eames, an ex-soldier of the 17th Regiment, as publican.65
Obtaining staff to help with his business was a problem. Michael appeared before the Bathurst bench in September 1835 with an application for two domestic servants,66 but labour was scarce and the waiting list was long. Josiah Betts, a local landholder, had apparently offered to use his influence to obtain a female convict from the Parramatta factory, but nothing came of it. So Michael took the matter into his own hands, and on 3 October 1835 wrote to John Betts in Parramatta:
Your brother Mr Josiah Betts was pleased to promise to intercede with the Committee to assign to my service a suitable Female Servant for an Establishment of this kind but from the number of things he may have to attend to it may escape his memory.
I therefore beg leave to trouble you in the hope that you will procure a Female of the description alluded to and forward under the charge of the Bearer Edward Sadler who I can depend upon to afford her safe conduct up.67
John Betts obtained the necessary recommendation from the Reverend Samuel Marsden, a magistrate at Parramatta and member of the Factory's Board of Committee (and John Betts's father-in-law),68 and Mary Murray/Murphy, ship Buffalo of 1833, was assigned to Michael on 30 October. But life in the country was not to Mary's liking, and she absconded shortly after.
The Bathurst bench were not impressed with Michael's short-circuiting the system, and Police Superintendent Evernden complained to the Board of Committee of the Female Factory, that Michael:
has had of late several Women assigned to his service from the Female Factory Parramatta without any recommendation from this Bench. This individual has been in the habit of keeping these Women for a period of six or seven days, and then permitting them to go at large until captured by the Mounted Police and brought into Bathurst. I now beg to suggest that this individual be deprived of the privilege of having Women assigned to him for the future without the concurrence of this Bench.69
It is not clear how Michael could have employed Mary without allowing her to walk around, and hence disappear down the Bathurst road. This is the same Thomas Everndon who had been in Bathurst during Michael's military service, and he was probably more concerned about being by-passed than about Michael's care of his convicts.
Notwithstanding the Bathurst Bench's concerns, Michael's turn to be assigned a domestic servant came up in March 1836, and he was assigned a stableman,70 William Jones from Chelsea, who had arrived per the ship Recovery (3) in February 1836. Unfortunately Jones, too, got himself into trouble. Sent on Saturday 21 January 1837 by Michael's son Thomas to look for wandering cattle, Jones crossed the flooded Cox's River, partook of some alcohol somewhere, and decided not to return. Thomas reported his absence the following day, and he was arrested and brought before the bench at Vale of Clwyd on the Monday. But because Thomas gave Jones a good character reference, magistrate John Kinchela admonished and released him, probably to the relief of all concerned.71
The Vale of Clwyd Bench assumed responsibility for Michael's district in 1836 and the Bathurst Bench had no more say in Michael's activities. But the general shortage of labour, both bonded and free, that the expanding colony suffered during the 1830s.meant no more convicts were available. A free servant, David Dougherty, was employed 18 May 1837 on a three-month contract under the Masters and Servants Act, but he left after only two days.72
Michael also had problems with his clientele. Being the first inn on the new road meant that Michael was surrounded by roadworks and by the convict gangs employed on the roads. These were by now convicts with a colonial conviction or ones returned from assignment as useless to settlers. When Michael arrived there was already a bridge party stationed close by to the west, working on the bridges for the new road, and shown on Surveyor Richards' plan. In about 1835 two convict stockades were established, one immediately to the east, named the Hassans Walls stockade, and the other at Bowen's Hollow, to house the convicts working on the road and at the local quarry. Both 80-man ironed gangs and ordinary un-ironed road parties of about 30 were housed there, together with their overseers and military guards.73
Although the convicts were expressly forbidden to enter public houses except in the presence of, or by the written direction of, their master or overseer, it was difficult to enforce. Many of the overseers were convicts themselves and they brought the prisoners in, perhaps in exchange for free drinks or other gifts. Some of the soldiers also fraternised with their prisoners, and used their power over them for corrupt purposes. And the prisoners roamed relatively freely on legitimate errands, presumably with passes to match. On at least three occasions Michael was fined £5 for harbouring a convict. He was also prosecuted in 1837 because a soldier was drunk on his verandah on a Sunday.74
But Michael also appeared on the other side of the local bench and, overall, he was more an upholder of the law than a transgressor of it.. Within weeks of taking up his land, in November 1832 he earned much praise for his work with constable John Collits in tracking and arresting a gang of convicts from the nearby Road Branch infirmary who had held up Bathurst resident George Suttor's dray and stolen the contents.75 In 1836 he apprehended William Rayns for stealing a cheque his son Thomas had taken to George McGrath's house. And in 1838 he sent for soldiers to take suspected bushranger Daniel Riley from his premises.76
Susannah, too, became familiar with the Hartley court. On 12 February 1838 she put some caps and children's clothing in the garden to bleach, and they were stolen, to be found later in the possession of convict John Finn of the Bowen's Hollow Stockade.77 Susannah's worst experience was to find herself in July 1837 charged with taking stones quarried for the government. She had engaged Private "Sandy Boys", 80th Regiment, (Private Alexander Bowie)78 to make a flagstone paved verandah for her house, and unknown to her, "Boys", assisted by her convict William Jones and a ticket-of-leave man John Hays, had taken the stones which had been quarried by contractor Duncan Campbell for the building of the new Hartley court house. In evidence Jones reported he had protested to "Boys" that the stones were building stones, not flagstones, and "Boys" had replied that they were all the stronger for a good verandah. Fortunately, the case against Susannah did not proceed.79
Of all the travellers who wrote and published accounts of their journeys across the Blue Mountains, none has mentioned The Travellers Inn either in a positive or negative sense. Annabella Boswell described her stay at "Malachi Ryan's" [Mylecharane's] in March 1839:
This was a large, bare-looking house at the junction of our road with that from Bathurst, long known and celebrated as Malachi Ryan's, but its celebrity was not flattering, as, though not haunted by ghosts, it was so infested with creatures more likely to disturb one's rest that I wonder now why anyone stopped a night there. One traveller declared he had been dragged out of bed, another kept up a continual fight to prevent himself from being devoured alive, and a nervous lady, being left alone with her invisible tormentors, could think of no expedient save that of ringing a small hand-bell all the weary night to frighten them off.80
Annabella's party took a detour to avoid "Malachi Ryan's" on the return journey.
Michael's worst problem was his lack of capital. Unlike the earlier veteran settlers, the discharged soldiers were not provided with a free hut, or a cow, and Michael and family had to supply accommodation, food and supplies for themselves, their staff and their guests; stables, fencing and fodder for the travellers' horses; license fees to the government; and cope with unpaid bills, promissory notes and a severe shortage of sterling currency. On 18 January 1836 Michael tried to expand his business and mortgaged his property to Dennis Kenny, an ex-soldier of the 17th Regiment. Kenny had enlisted only in September 1823 and had a meteoric rise to colour-sergeant, the highest non-commissioned rank, before taking his discharge on 28 February 1835.81 With less than 12 years' service, he had to pay £15 to purchase his discharge, but he could evidently afford to pay the fee and to lend Michael £200 for 12 months at 12 per cent interest.82
On 17 October 1836 Michael applied to have the lands to the east of him along the Bathurst road put up for auction.83 This was approved, and at the subsequent auction on 8 March 1837 his son Thomas, now about 19 years old, was the successful bidder at 6/- per acre for the 57-acre allotment adjacent to Michael. But either his funds could not cover a bid for the larger 320-acre portion or he was out-bid, because the second lot went to William Jope Richards who paid £88 or 5/6 per acre.84
Thomas paid the required 10 per cent deposit of £1.14.3, but failed to pay the balance within one month as required by the regulations, and forfeited both the land and his deposit.85 His father tried desperately to retrieve the situation, and his letter to the Collector of Internal Revenue of 13 April shows some of the problems he was having, both with cash flow and with lack of sterling currency which was in such short supply throughout the colony.86
I have the honour to forward herewith the sum of sixteen pounds, to make up the residue of the payment of £17.2.0 for the purchase of 57 acres of land in the Co of Cook Lot 131 on the 8th March last.
In doing so, I am not aware if my son (who is now absent at Bathurst) has already remitted the amount, should he have done so, I have to request the sum now enclosed may be returned to me.
The order on Mr Kite I have no doubt will be paid on presenting at Messrs Aspinall Brown & Co; I could not obtain change, it being very scarce.
I have the honour to be, Sir, your obedient servant, Michael Keenan.
Michael's letter arrived by 15 April, but Treasury had already reported the non-payment to the Colonial Secretary the day before. Apart from a clerk's query on the back of Michael letter as to whether Aspinall & Brown would pay Kite's order, Michael's letter seems to have been ignored, and Thomas's forfeiture was gazetted on 25 April 1837.87
In the meantime, Dennis Kenny must have decided he had other uses for his £200. On 8 August 1836 he used his interest in Michael's property to secure a loan for £150 at 12½ per cent, from Sydney solicitor and debt collection specialist Brent Clements Rodd.88 On 18 January 1837 when the mortgage matured, Rodd called in the debt, and neither Michael nor Dennis Kenny had the money to pay it. Rodd filed a "complaint" in the NSW Supreme Court on 1 March 1837 and subpoenae were issued for Kenny and Keenan to appear before the chief clerk with their reply within eight days. Neither party appeared, and writs were issued to the sheriff to arrest them for contempt of court by non-appearance. Kenny was arrested and placed in the debtor's gaol at Carters Barracks a sad fall from his previous position as a colour-sergeant. The sheriff reported Keenan "not found in my bailiwick". Kenny and Rodd came to an agreement whereby for £58 Rodd took over all of Kenny's interest in the property, and Dennis Kenny was then discharged.89
Meanwhile son Thomas, having forfeited his deposit on his land purchase in March 1837, and with his father deep in debt and lying low, decided to try again. On 9 November 1837 he wrote from Hassans Walls to the Colonial Treasurer:
I beg leave to submit to you: Having had the misfortune of having a piece or parcel of land cancelled containing fifty seven acres through not delivering the money at the time and place appointed, I beg leave to know whether the same can be put up for sale without applying on the usual form, if so please forward me a line by the return of post.90
The same month he also applied to purchase 20 acres to erect an inn and store, firstly at the Twenty Four Mile Hollow (Lawson)91 and then at the Seventeen Mile Hollow (Linden) "where the old huts or stockade was formerly".92
Thomas was unsuccessful on all counts. The 57-acre lot was re-advertised on 25 June 1838 and re-auctioned on 8 August.93 We don't know whether Thomas bid, but competition was certainly fierce, because the land went to Thomas May at the very high price of 9/6 per acre.94 On both requests to establish an inn, he was informed he must give a more definite description of the land he wished put up for auction. No record has been found of Thomas taking any further action.
The debt noose was tightening. The last record we have of Michael and Susannah at Hassans Walls was in June 1838. Michael appeared at the annual licensing meeting of the Vale of Clwyd bench on 19 June and was successful in renewing his certificate for a publican's license,95 but there is no record of him paying his annual fee of £12.10.0 to the colonial treasury, which he was obliged to do within one month. On 21 June he was involved in the apprehension of suspected bushranger Daniel Riley in his house, and he testified at the subsequent court hearing.96 Some time after that, before January 1841, Michael and Susannah cut their losses and the family moved to the isolated position of Jew's Creek near Ben Bullen on the Mudgee road.
Rodd's equity case ground inexorably on, with repeated subpoenae being served on Michael and every time he not appearing. Eventually on 26 June 1840 the judge ordered costs to be computed and Michael be given six months to pay principal, interest, and costs or lose his land. A notice was placed in the Government Gazette on 22 May 1841, giving Kenny [sic] and Keenan until 22 November to pay £394.15.1, which of course he did not do. On 29 November 1841 Mr Justice Dowling made his decree absolute and Michael was foreclosed.97
Susannah must have been heartbroken at losing her home, her first in 23 years of marriage after living in countless military barracks. In a desperate attempt to reverse the court's decision, she tried to invoke her "dower right" whereby a husband could not dispose of real estate without his wife's consent. On 10 January 1842 the following notice appeared in the Sydney Herald:
To all whom it may concern.
On 4 January 1841 Michael petitioned Governor George Gipps, calling on every reason, and every person, he could think of to get a positive result:
The area certainly was remote Baker's atlas of the County of Roxburgh in the 1840s shows the county had not even been divided into parishes except for the area close to Bathurst. The new land regulations of 1838 had raised the "upset" or reserve price of land at auction from five to twelve shillings per acre and land generally had to be bought in minimum lots of 640 acres (one square mile, or one "section")99 so only the wealthy were buying land, and then only the critical sections for homesteads or near water. The rest was leased for grazing, with a shepherd's hut the only improvement. There does seem to have been only one public house Thomas Barnaby's Coach and Horses Inn at Round Swamp on the Mudgee road which was the main stock route to the Cudgegong river flats and the extensive pastures of the Talbragar and the Castlereagh.
Michael and Susannah probably settled on the village reserve at Jew's Creek, just south of the present-day Ben Bullen. The adjacent sections to the north and west had been purchased by William Bowman of Richmond in 1838. When surveyor Davidson measured an additional section for Bowman on 19 April 1841, his sketches show buildings straddling the village reserve and Bowman's land and these were probably Michael's house and out-buildings.100
Governor Gipps was not impressed with Michael's petition, and wrote that the application was quite irregular, and that he should apply to the Bench. We have no record of whether Michael applied to the Bathurst Bench for a license that year or whether he ran an unlicensed accommodation house until he could afford the licensing fee. He eventually paid the standard £12.10.0 for a license in 1845, and he called his new house The Travellers Inn after the one at Hassans Walls101, but there is no record of him renewing it the following year.
The family's other source of income was cattle, and here again, the bureaucracy was not helpful to a man with little education living in a remote district. Notwithstanding the big economic crash and the drought of the "hungry forties", on 29 December 1843 from Jews Creek he applied to rent 640 acres for grazing, "situated east of Ben Bullen rock, three miles from "Cullen Bullen", County of Roxburgh, parish unnamed".102 The Surveyor-General wrote:
The description of the land required is far too vague. Ben Bullen rock not being known on the maps, applicant should state the distance from Sir J. Jamison's 2000 acres at Cullen Bullen as well as from the Mudgee road, and whether east or west.
Ben Bullen rock is clearly marked on Surveyor Davidson's sketch of Bowman's land, and Michael was probably not to know what was marked on the Surveyor-General's maps. Nevertheless, he responded immediately with a detailed description: "three miles north of Sir John Jamison's 2000 acres, and two miles east of the last purchased section of William Bowman Esq, and two miles east of the Mudgee Road. There is no other purchased land on the other sides."103 He was informed 18 March that his application had gone to the Colonial Secretary for the Governor's approval, then heard nothing more. When he saw other parties taking up their lands, he wrote again on 26 October:
I have not as yet been able to ascertain whether the application succeeded or not. I understand that a "section" has been rented either by Mr Irving or Mr Botts within about two miles of the area required by me.104
Unfortunately, unknown to Michael, his application had succeeded, the license had been advertised on 20 May 1844 for auction on 20 June, the auction had taken place clearly without Michael being present, and his land had been licensed to W.C. Botts at the minimum price of £5 for the year.105
All these setbacks must have been taking their toll on the family, and from such an optimistic, enthusiastic start as a settler, twelve years later Michael was clearly struggling. That old curse of the soldier, grog, was also a problem and Michael was probably drinking heavily.
Michael died on 27 December 1846 in a tragic accident. The coroner's report has not survived, and the following report which appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald on 5 January 1847 seems to be based on Susannah's account:
Michael's body was taken back to his old property at Hassans Walls, and buried in the graveyard he had established by the creek. His headstone stands to this day.
Shortly before Michael's death, on 7 December 1846, son Thomas Michael Keenan took out a lease for seven years from Thomas Cadell, of 640 acres at Crown Ridge, just three miles north of Jew's Creek, in a joint venture to build a new inn. Cadell, the son-in-law of William Bowman, had just taken up residence on Bowman's lands at Jew's Creek and had purchased additional lands, including Patrick Anderson's 640-acre grant at Crown Ridge, to form his Ben Bullen estate. Cadell agreed to pay £50 towards the construction of the inn on the old Anderson grant, and sureties for the project were Joseph Douglass of Kurrajong and James Harrisky of Richmond, underscoring the strong links between the Hawkesbury and the pastoral area towards Mudgee.106
The inn became a landmark in the picturesque district around Blackman's Crown, and was the subject of a sketch by Conrad Martens who stayed there in 1874. Reviews were mixed in the early days. George Cox, the father of Michael's "adviser" Henry Cox, stayed at "young Keenan's" on his twice-yearly journeys to and from Mudgee. On 22 December 1848 he wrote of his most recent visit:
Miss Keenan busied herself sweeping out the dust from the parlor as soon as she saw me coming. The meal I had, I must say was something better than usual, but still plenty of room for improvement. A few fleas, but no bugs in the night. I ordered a cup of tea at day light but had to wait some time for it. The young lady I suppose was too drowsy.107
At Crown Ridge the Keenan family formed a bond with the Corlis family of Bandanora which was to last for many generations, and result in several marriages. Brothers Charles and Patrick Corlis and their families had followed their sister and other relatives as bounty immigrants to NSW from Tuam, County Galway, arriving in the ship Susan in 1841. Charles Corlis gained employment as a shepherd in the Capertee area, and, as was the custom in those difficult times, was paid in sheep.108 Charles subsequently decided that his future lay in sheep-farming.
On 23 January 1849 Thomas Michael Keenan married Charles Corlis' only daughter Margaret.109 That same year he took out four leases of grazing land totalling some 2720 acres near the Crown Ridge,110 but did not re-new them for 1850. Instead, he requested that they be put up again for auction,111 and they were taken up in 1850 and 1851 by his father-in-law Charles Corlis.112 Corlis's son William later recalled that Thomas Keenan had advised his father of the availability and high value of these lands.113 They became the basis of the Bandanora station. Corlis also leased land in the Capertee valley against sharp competition from John McLean,114 and when he died in 1853 his estate included some 2680 sheep, 500 horses and extensive runs of land.115 His wife and sons built up the Bandanora estate to be one of the largest pastoral stations in NSW.
Rather than be a sheep farmer, Thomas concentrated on his other businesses. In January 1850 he was awarded the contract for the mail run between Hartley, Mudgee and Rylstone, twice per week by two-horse mail cart, for £289,116 and in June of that year he announced he had been appointed agent for the Bathurst Free Press for the Mudgee district, and all advertising etc was to be lodged through him.117 In September 1851 he purchased his first block of land, about 30 acres in the present-day village of Ilford, perhaps with the intention of establishing his own, freehold, inn and coaching stop.118
Perhaps, too, he had sensed the trouble that was looming. In November 1851 the following notice appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald:
The discovery of gold in 1851 turned the isolated pastoral district into a city of diggers, prospectors and merchants servicing the goldfields. The Turon river, which flowed almost past the Crown Ridge, was one of the earliest fields and many employees deserted their positions to try their luck with the cradle and pannier. On 7 April 1852 Thomas was advertising for coach drivers and grooms to help with his business.120
But just two weeks later, at the annual licensing meeting in Bathurst on 21 April 1852, Thomas was refused a publican's license for the following year.121 No reason was given in the newspaper account of the meeting, and it is difficult to understand why this happened. Thomas Cadell was a frequent visitor to the inn, and English visitors Samuel Mossman and Thomas Banister who stayed at "Keening's inn" twice in 1852 wrote favourably of its environs:
Perhaps someone accused him of being absent on other business too often. There certainly was competition for business. The goldrush had brought a string of inns to the district, and Thomas Cadell had added another one by leasing on 1 April 1852 ten acres at the eastern end of his Ben Bullen estate for seven years at £10 per year to David Thomson, inn keeper of Ben Bullen. The lease contained a familiar clause should the inn or public house thereon exceed £150 in value at the end of the lease, Cadell would pay £150 for the buildings.123 This became the Ben Bullen Inn.
Thomas's lease at Crown Ridge did not expire until December 1853, but without his innkeeper's license his business was finished, and he made plans to leave. In November 1852 he purchased small allotments of about 30 acres each for his two infant children and for himself, near Cullen Bullen along the travelling stock route.124 In February 1853 he advertised the inn to let:
TO LET, The House and Premises situated on the Mudgee Road, well known as the Crown Inn (or Keenan's), being midway between Sofala and Hartley. The house contains ten rooms, bar, &c.: a good six-horse stable, loft, &c.; also, a shed containing seven-horse stalls, garden paled in containing one acre, and large pond of water therein; stockyards, and paddock containing fourteen acres, now under cultivation. There is a never failing supply of water within twenty yards of the house, and an excellent run attached. The above is considered by all travellers to the gold fields and Mudgee district as the best stand on the road. For further particulars apply to the undersigned, on the premises; if by letter, pre-paid. None but principals will be treated with.
His offer was quickly snapped up. In April 1853 a publican's license was granted to Henry Frost of the Welcome Inn, "Crown Ridge, Mudgee Road".126 Travel writers Mossman and Banister had written in 1852 of a "Welcome Inn" at the Middle River, 20 miles from Hartley and 19 miles south of "Keening's":
a very tolerable house of accommodation, no doubt, in quiet times; but we found it a very noisy place to expect any rest in, so after our day's journey of forty miles we bivouacked at a convenient spot, and rested comfortably for the night under the open canopy of the heavens.127
Henry Frost must have jumped at the chance to move his license and sign to the prestigious Crown Inn. He was soon advertising his improved circumstances:
TO TRAVELLERS TO THE TURON MINES.
Thomas Cadell, too, was making plans for a replacement tenant.
TO LET, a Thirty-acre Farm at the Crown Ridge, through which the Mudgee Road passes, and a most suitable locality for a blacksmith. Also, a forty-eight-acre agricultural Farm, well watered, near to the Crown Ridge, and adjoining the Mudgee Road. Also, on the 1st January next, five hundred and forty (540) acres, a portion of the section of land on which stands the Crown Ridge Inn, Keenan's. This farm would be well adapted for a Carrier on the Mudgee line of road as a halting place for teams, growing hay. &c, Sec. Apply to THOMAS CADELL, Jun., Ben Bullen, by Hartley.129
In 1854 when Thomas sold his Ilford block to the Ryan family, he described himself as a yeoman farmer of Crown Ridge.130 1855 was a black year. Found wandering the Sydney streets in a "state of delirium tremens by habitual intoxication" and without sureties for good behaviour, Thomas was sent to gaol on 12 November for fourteen days.131 He and wife Margaret separated in 1856132 but were reconciled and living back at Jew's Creek by 1858.133 In January 1861 he advertised the children's farms to let, two of which he said were cleared and fenced,134 after which he may have gone goldmining. He died of bronchitis on 28 June 1864 at his sister's home at Kurrajong Heights.135 His widow Margaret nee Corlis then became an innkeeper in her own right, with an inn at Jew's Creek where gold had been discovered on the very ground where Michael Keenan's inn had been located.136 In October 1871 Margaret moved to Gulgong and conducted "The Digger's Arms" on the corner of Herbert and Belmore streets until 1881 when she and her second husband Michael McIntyre retired.137
After leaving Crown Ridge, the family started to go their separate ways. Susannah's daughters Ann and Margaret, and later Susannah junior, and their husbands moved to Havilah, the large sheep station near Mudgee of Nicholas Paget Bayly who was famed for his breeding of stud merinos. Several of the family members subsequently gained employment on Bayly's many stations in the Cudgegong valley and beyond, spreading out to Coolah, Coonabarabran and points west.
On 17 April 1854 at the Middle River, Susannah re-married, to the now widowed Patrick Corlis. Both bride and groom were said to have been of Ben Bullen.138 Patrick was said to have been a farmer but no purchase or lease of land has been found. Perhaps he was one of Thomas Cadell's tenant farmers.
In 1858, Patrick, farmer of Jew's Creek, died. He was buried on 15 May 1858 near his brother Charles at Hartley.139
Susannah moved to Havilah near her daughters, and there married for a third time, on 2 April 1861, to widower and army pensioner James Anderson, son of Hugh Anderson and Janet Millar from Edinburgh, Scotland.140 James had served for about 25 years with the 2nd Madras European Light Infantry of the East India Company army141 and had arrived from Madras by the ship Scotia on 26 February 1855.142 On arrival James presented the Colonial Secretary with his pension papers,143 and was paid one shilling per day from the military chest for the rest of his life.
James and Susannah settled down at Havilah where James had become a shepherd and tenant farmer. James had benefited from a good Scottish education and was an avid reader and collector of news from 'home'. He enjoyed his susbscription to the Illustrated London News, which afforded him 'much instruction and amusement' in his solitary occupation as a shepherd, and entertainment for his wife and family. When one edition failed to arrived in the mail from England, he complained bitterly to the local agent, to the Mudgee Postmaster, to the Postmaster General, and eventually by letter to the editor of The Sydney Morning Herald, that the loss of one monthly part of his collection was 'a matter of consequence' which 'loudly calls for a remedy'.144
Susannah died on 14 Sep 1876 after a long and eventful life. She is buried at Havilah with her daughter Ann Walsh and husband, and many of her Walsh grandchildren.145 James stayed on at Havilah, becoming storekeeper for Henry Charles White when he purchased the property in 1881 after N.P. Bayly's death.146 In January 1884 James travelled to Sydney on holiday and stayed at the residence of builder David H. Daly of Thomas Street, Haymarket. On 11 February 1884, while visiting nearby Belmore Park, he suddenly became ill, and although police found him and rushed him to hospital he died enroute, a few days after his 72nd birthday.147 He is buried in Rookwood Anglican cemetery, Sydney.148
From September 1838, even before he had title, BC Rodd tried repeatedly to sell or lease Michael's grant at Hassans Walls but he still owned it at his death in 1898.149 In the advertisements he placed in the Sydney Morning Herald in early 1855 he advised that
A considerable amount of money has been expended upon it in buildings, orchard, garden, cleared paddock, &c. but the buildings were burnt down, since when the farm has not been occupied.150
In 1899 his son ST Rodd advertised the land as a "well-known camping ground"151 and it finally sold to George Woodward Pearce of Seven Hills, for just £100 .152 A decade earlier Pearce had purchased the adjacent Akhurst grant, with the 13-room stone house, for £240 at a "fire-sale" auction153 resulting from the insolvency of Phillip Mylecharane's grandson, the surveyor William Mylecharane.154 The Pearce family were substantial orchardists and graziers with properties in Kings Langley and Seven Hills near Parramatta, Taralga near Goulburn, and in the Riverina district.
In 1891 Pearce sold Akhurst's grant to Charles Daintree for £1200, but re-gained it when Daintree defaulted on his mortgage. The two properties remained in the Pearce family, as "Pearce's orchard", and some family members seem to have lived there, until the 1920s when Jack Drew and his wife Jessie took over the Keenan portion and operated "Drew's orchard" for 30 years. In 1918 for some reason the "Eagle and Child" building complex was separated from the Akhurst land and became part of the Keenan parcel.155 By 1932 the buildings were ruins (see photograph). Further, a substantial and gracious home dating apparently from the nineteenth century stands on the Keenan property, its origins unknown.
The four remaining old soldiers stayed at Hassans Walls. Joseph Phillips progressively sold off his land to pay debts. John Butcher sold part of his land, and lived in a room in George McGrath's inn. George McGrath, farmer of Hassans Walls, was buried in the Hartley RC cemetery on 25 September 1852.156 Joseph Phillips, labourer, was buried by Presbyterian minister Colin Stewart at Bowenfels on 3 June 1853.157 John Cox died 3 September 1863 and his remains lie in the old Bowenfels cemetery. John Butcher may have been the farm servant to William Lea of Kelso who died at Kelso on 17 May 1854.158
The name Hassans Walls declined as the settlement name after the village of Bowenfels was proclaimed in 1842. By a happy coincidence, Bowen's Hollow and Bowen's Creek had been named after the 39th Regiment officer Lieutenant George Meares Countess Bowen. Bowen is said to have marked out the boundaries of the county of Cook, and he and Major Mitchell had spent a convivial evening together in 1830 while Mitchell was marking out the new road and naming local features.159 When Surveyor Davidson laid out the village in 1839, the Surveyor General's office asked him whether the new village should be called Hassans Walls or Bowen's Hollow. His reply that the village was closer to Bowen's Hollow led to that name being submitted for the approval of the Governor, who directed it be called Bowenfels.160
When the railway arrived in 1869 the busy western road became a country bypass. The remaining inns lost their importance when goods and passengers alike were now carried across the blue mountains by steam train. The development of mining and the location of the railway platform changed the focus from Bowenfels to the new town of Lithgow, which is now spreading its suburbs towards Bowenfels. It was not until the advent of the powerful motor cars of the twentieth century that the road, and Mitchell's famous Victoria Pass, regained the importance it has today. The soldier-settlers are long gone, but travellers can again look down on the Vale of Clwyd and admire its splendour after the spectacular ruggedness of the blue mountains.
© 2006 Patricia Downes
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