George Dougherty c1825-1907 Irish dragoon, Australian selector
When George Dougherty died at his Singleton home in 1907, the Singleton Argus noted his passing with the headline "Death of a Veteran". The obituary went on to laud the "old and respected resident", a "man of fine physique" who "in his younger days was a member of the famous Enniskillen Dragoons, and well remembered those troops being reviewed by the late Queen Victoria".1
Had the newspaper known the full story, it might have chosen a different line. But even if he did not charge at Waterloo or Balaklava, George's life was an eventful one, which would have passed into obscurity but for his stubborn nature and for the nature of New South Wales politics during the 19th century . George was both a victim and a victor of the land war between the squatters and the selectors, which dominated the political agenda from the 1830s until the 1880s. His brief membership of the landowning class ended in disaster, but his determination to seek justice brought eventual reward.
George Dougherty was born in Londonderry, Ireland, about 1825, son of Thomas Dougherty, butcher, and his wife Rose.2 His native parish may have been Faughanvale,3 but a Londonderry trade directory in 1839 listed no less than seven members of the Doherty family, including Thomas, as butchers attending the city "Shambles" (the old name for the butchers' market), along with William Doherty as lessee and clerk of the market.4
George was probably destined to follow the family calling, but in 1841 the recruiting party for the Enniskillen Dragoons rode into town, helmets, swords and Waterloo medals flashing, and on splendid charging horses. George knew the life of adventure and travel was for him, and on 25 March, he took the Queen's shilling (actually £2.17.0 bounty) to become 695 Private Dougherty, 6th Dragoons.5 George said he was 18, but he may have been younger, as he had not yet reached his full height. (At that stage his height was only 5'8¼", while eight years later he was said to have measured 5'11".)
George was despatched to join his regiment and after a day at sea and 7 days' march he arrived at headquarters in Birmingham, England, no doubt to undergo training. During that first quarter he spent four days in hospital the first of many. It is not possible to determine the reason for his multiple admissions to hospital. Perhaps the demon drink was to blame: it was common practice for the recruiting sergeant, once he had paid the raw recruit his bounty, to fleece him of the money in the nearest bar. But one stay of 24 days in 1845 suggests something more serious.
He was to spend the next five years in England and Scotland, training, parading and performing civil duties. It was in September 1842, when Queen Victoria visited Scotland, that the Dragoons played ceremonial escort to the royal passage from Edinburgh to Perth and back, and this is probably the occasion well remembered by George; it is also well remembered in the official "Historical Record of the Sixth or Inniskilling Dragoons" where two pages are devoted to the event and the honour felt by the regiment.6
The first two years in service seem to have been trouble free, but in 1843, while on the march from Edinburgh to Leeds, he and many others from the Regiment absented themselves without leave, forfeiting a week's pay for their misdemeanour. (Perhaps the strain of the Long Peace, and of behaving well during the royal visit, was too much for them all.) These absences became progressively more frequent until, not long after his long sojourn in hospital, he was listed as having deserted on 14 January 1846. Arrest on 4 August resulted in court martial and time in Athlone military prison, after which he resumed his service with the Regiment, only to desert again on 18 April 1847. This time he was tried by a higher court martial, and on 20 January 1848 he was sentenced to seven years' transportation, arriving in Hobart in the ship Hyderabad on 26 August 1849.
On arrival in Hobart, George freely admitted his offence desertion and frequently absent. He said he was 27 years old, he had been in the Dragoons for six years, his trade was a groom, his parents were both dead, and he had a brother Edward and a sister Mary.7
By 1849, provided their gaol report had been satisfactory, convicts were awarded a ticket of leave immediately on arrival.8 This was the case with George, and initially, he seems to have kept out of trouble. But on 11 March 1851 he was absent from the muster, and his ticket was accordingly revoked. From then on he was in and out of trouble, from being appointed to the Constabulary to being sentenced to the iron gang and hard labour three times for drunkenness and abuse, for neglect of duty, and for harbouring a female prisoner. In 1852 he was ordered not to enter service to the north of Oatlands, presumably as a precaution against absconding to the mainland. He also spent an unspecified time in hospital. He finally obtained his certificate of freedom at Oatlands on 19 July 1855.
On 9 August 1863, at Singleton NSW, George married Mary Sharp nee Graham, recently widowed wife of John Sharp and mother of six young children.9 Both were living at Ravensworth station where George was a labourer. But not for long George was to be a landowner.
In 1861 the population of NSW was only about 350,000, most of whom lived in the original Nineteen Counties. The small settlers could not purchase land in the vast interior as it had not been surveyed, and since 1847 the squatters had locked up the unsettled districts in long leases at trivial rents. But the Free Selection Acts10 which become law in 1862, allowed any person who wished to settle on his own land to "select" any spot not actually owned by someone else, pay a deposit of 5 shillings per acre, and settle. The surveyor would appear in due course, mark out the selection, and after three years' residence and improvements worth £1 per acre, the land was the selector's, with the balance of 15 shillings per acre deferred indefinitely.
In September 1863 George paid his 10 pounds and selected for conditional purchase 40 acres on Swamp Creek, Ravensworth.11 By March 1865 when the surveyor came to mark out his land he had a house and stockyard to the value of 30 pounds. In November 1866, after the obligatory three years' residence, he paid his first interest instalment and in due course received confirmation that he had satisfied all the conditions of residence and improvements to validate his purchase. Except for his "mortgage" to the government, the land was his.
But the farm was too small to be viable, and expansion not
possible as the regulations required additional selections to be adjacent to
the first property, and that was surrounded by other selections. This was
possibly the reason the family sold up in July 1867, no doubt at a profit, to
their neighbour, William Barden.12 They
appear to have lived briefly at nearby Goorangoola Creek,13 then, following the lead of many upper Hunter
families, they moved out to the lush Liverpool Plains.
The squatters had acquired enormous runs on the Liverpool Plains back in the 1830s when the land was beyond the "nineteen counties" limit for settlement. The squatters had the capital to establish stock routes across the Liverpool Range, the most used one being along the northern boundary of the Australian Agricultural Company's grant and through Cunningham's Gap near Murrurundi (see map). But the lack of infrastructure and distance from markets across the black soil plains posed great difficulties for small selectors with limited capital, so until the railway arrived, the squatters had the Plains to themselves.
The extension of the railway to Murrurundi in 1872 lessened these problems, and the selectors soon fanned out, picking choice blocks on the squatters' runs, while working for the squatters or carrying on the roads with their teams of horses or bullocks until their farms could pay.
In the meantime, the squatters were busy "selecting" themselves, and buying the land at auction as fast as the surveyors could mark it out.
George's eldest stepson Thomas Sharp was among the first to select in the Tambar Springs area of the Liverpool Plains: 40 acres at Saltwater Creek on 25 April 1872.14 The land was near the main route from Murrurundi to Coonabarabran, and on Bomera Run, the lease of Andrew Town, landowner, squatter and racehorse owner of Richmond in the Hawkesbury area. Thomas selected a peninsular-shaped block, surrounded on three sides by the creek (see map). The surveyor arrived three weeks later and reported he already had built a hut and yard and had started clearing his land, to the total value of £13.15 A house and fencing followed, and in May 1875 Thomas declared his improvements were worth £100.16
Thomas had married widow Ann Morris nee Fletcher at Goorangoola in 1869,17 and in 1873, one year after he chose his own farm, he sponsored a selection of 40 acres directly across the creek, on behalf of his eldest stepson, 15-year-old William John Morris.18 Two weeks later, George took up two selections each of 40 acres downstream of Thomas.19
When Licensed Surveyor Higgins came through to measure their holdings in March 1874, he noted that George had a hut, yard and clearing, total value £30, and William a hut worth £5. Both George and Thomas extended their holdings in May 1874,20 so the family then held 320 acres between them. The race for land was on. Thomas paid a deposit on an adjacent 80 acres in October 1874, but then found the surveyor had already surveyed it as part of a larger portion of 180 acres and it could not be split. Before Thomas could return to the Tamworth Land Office with the rest of the deposit on the 180 acres, the land was put up for auction and bought by Andrew Town.
George continued his improvements, building a four-roomed slab house with a bark roof worth £30, a yard also worth £30, a garden worth £5, and having two paddocks under cultivation estimated at £50 each by Licensed Surveyor Goodwin in 1875. The surveyor, however, also noted that the land was of light soil suitable only for grazing, and it was timbered with box gum and apple.21
Either George realised he had made a poor choice or Andrew Town made him an offer he could not refuse, because on 17 May 1876, immediately after the three-year conditional period had expired, George sold his 180 acres to Andrew Town.22 It is not clear whether George was genuinely trying to settle at Saltwater Creek or whether he was speculating. Probably he was trying to "move up" to his best situation possible, as funds allowed.
The practice of selecting on a critical or middle part of a
squatter's run, paying the 25 per cent deposit, occupying the land for the
three years and carrying out minimum improvements (£1 per acre) until
being bought out by the squatter, was a popular and prevalent way of exploiting
the land laws. The selectors were required to swear on oath that they
were bona fide settlers, whereas often they were speculating for a profit
not in the spirit of the Robertson land acts which were meant to "unlock
the land" for the farmers and small settlers. Another form of
exploitation, known as dummying, was practised by the squatter: the squatter,
who like everyone else was limited to selecting 320 acres of unsurveyed land on
his own account, would pay the deposit for a dummy to register a selection,
thereby causing it to be surveyed, but with no intention of settling or
improving it. After the selection was forfeited through non-compliance,
the surveyed parcel was normally put up for auction and the squatter was then
free to purchase it.23
On 18 May 1876, the day after his sale to Andrew Town, George again visited the Gunnedah land office to pay £80 deposit on yet another selection 320 acres of flat plain 20 miles further north at Bald Hill on Bando Station, south of Gunnedah.24 Second stepson John Sharp had already selected 320 acres just across the reserve in March,25 and youngest stepson Robert was to select 160 acres adjacent to George the following week.26 The family now held 800 acres between them at Bando, while Thomas Sharp and William Morris still held another 140 acres down at Tambar Springs.
Bando Station was leased by brothers the Hon. James and Henry Charles White, of Belltrees near Scone, Havilah near Mudgee, and of numerous other properties throughout the colony. James White had been member for the Hunter District in the NSW Legislative Assembly (lower house) from 1864 to 1868, then in 1874 he was appointed to a life seat in the Legislative Council (upper house), until his death in 1890.27 The White brothers were enormously wealthy and astute businessmen. (Bando Station, incorporating Bando, Bald Hill(s) and Merigula Runs, was valued at £155,500 in 1889, said to be worth over $5 million in 1981 prices.28) While not necessarily breaking the law, they were able to wield enormous influence in parliament and the Department of Lands, to the resentment of the selectors. In December 1875 for example, 53 petitioners had claimed to parliament that the Whites had appointed dummies on another part of Bando Run, and immediately after their selections had been gazetted as forfeited and before the next land office day when bona fide selectors could register, all the land had been re-gazetted as water reserves, ostensibly organised by the Whites.29
Such claims and counter-claims were common in the NSW parliament at that time; indeed, the land issue drove the political agenda continuously from 1861 when the Acts were passed (and before) until 1883 when the Acts were finally changed and the land was divided into exclusive leasehold and that available for freehold selection. Politicians were elected on their land platforms, and many of the politicians were also professional land agents.30
George and Robert fell foul of the Whites almost immediately. The reserve between their land and that of John also marked the boundary between Goran and Calala parishes (see map). In their purchase applications, George and Robert, both illiterate, wrongly described their selections as lying in Goran parish instead of Calala parish a mistake not detected in the Gunnedah office. At the same time, the Whites were preparing to purchase the same portions at auction, which they did on 23 August 1876. By the time the Whites applied for the deeds, the Surveyor General in Sydney had discovered the mistake. The resulting legal mess of two parties owning the same land took until March 1878 to resolve, in favour of George and John.31
George and Robert erected bark gunyahs on their Bald Hill selections, to satisfy the residence requirement. It seems George's wife Mary and the rest of the Sharp family may have been living across the reserve on John's selection at this time. George ran about 60 cattle and a team of horses on his land, but this time he didn't bother cultivating it, nor erecting fences. Perhaps he had taken to heart Surveyor Goodwin's advice about the suitability of the land and had decided to become a grazier, or perhaps he was getting bolder with his speculating. John spent many months away, earning a living as a carrier, presumably with George's team. Robert, too, was carrying on the roads, so George was no doubt managing the entire 800 acres for most of the time.
1877 and 1878 were drought years. George had no water, and had to water his cattle from John's well. The lack of fencing meant he had to watch his cattle constantly to prevent their straying onto Bando land and being impounded by the ever watchful Bando overseer and his men a misfortune which did occur once, and he had to pay £7 for their return.32
On 19 May 1877, Inspector of Conditional Purchases, Harry Geary, visited to check that George and the Sharps were complying with the residence requirement for conditional purchase. He rode up to George's humpy, saw no sign of George, and without dismounting, rode away and filed his report: "There was no appearance of occupancy whatever. No signs of a fire having been lighted, in fact nothing to indicate residence. The humpy is not habitable."33 George later said he was at the other end of his land with his cattle when Geary visited. His neighbour "old Teddy Ryan" informed him the next day it was the Inspector who had called.
In July 1877 John, back with the team of horses, drew the timber from the forest to Robert's land and helped him to build his hut, then to sink his well. The well, 80 feet deep, 6 feet long and 4 feet wide was "slabbed from top to bottom". Robert's brother-in-law, Michael Downes, came over from Singleton in late 1877 and was employed for three months helping Robert with the well.34
In the meantime, the wheels of bureaucracy were turning, and on 5 September 1878 George and Robert appeared before Commissioner John Delaney at an inquiry into their non-residence. The only witnesses were Inspector Geary and two employees of Bando Station, James Jones the superintendent and William Grace the sheep overseer. Both Bando employees swore on oath that they passed the selectors' land regularly and had never seen them resident. In turn, George swore he had been continuously resident for the first eighteen months, and resident "occasionally" since, with no other home. (Presumably for the last 10 months he was living on John's place.) The Irishman must have become excited at the hearing, because Commissioner Delaney reportedly told him to sit down and would not let him cross-examine the witnesses. At his hearing, Robert swore he had been living on his land when he was not away carrying. Commissioner Delaney recommended both selections be forfeited on the grounds of non-residence.35
Wiser by the experience, the two selectors employed a local agent, George Lonsdale, to put their case. Lonsdale wrote to the Minister for Lands, JS Farnell, seeking a re-hearing so that witnesses for the defendants could be called. Lonsdale also took the precaution of writing to John McElhone, MP, who had been active in parliament on behalf of the selectors. McElhone wrote to Farnell: "I have good reason to believe that selectors do not get much mercy from Delaney or Geary, and the squatters of the district have little cause to complain."36 The minister agreed to a re-hearing, which took place on 31 July 1879.
George must have decided about this time to start some improvements. During the drought most of his cattle had died, of "the Cumberland disease" (anthrax). John Sharp had married Mary Ann Downes in Singleton on 30 June 1878,37 and had brought his new bride to the family home. At some stage George built a one-roomed house of sawn slabs on his selection, carting the timber 25 miles from Trinkey scrub with his team. He and Robert concentrated on building three deep wells. In the first two wells, 99 feet and 84 feet respectively and both fully slabbed, they got brackish water suitable for stock but not for human consumption, so George carted fresh water from John's well, using a slide.38 In the third well they struck rock. They dug six feet through the rock, but then George had a fall which permanently injured his hip and necessitated time in hospital. When he made his declaration after his three years' "conditional" period, (25 June 1879) he stated his improvements comprised a hut and three wells, to the value of £330.39 Robert claimed his improvements, of a house and one well, were worth £175.40 John, not subject to all this trouble because his family was obviously resident on his 320 acres, declared his improvements were worth £318.104.22.168
But the drought and struggle must have taken their toll with John, his wife and their baby son. On 1 July 1879, immediately he became eligible, John sold out to his stepfather.42 Strangely, George then immediately on-sold John's land to the White brothers,43 and after previously declaring he would never sell to them, he tried to sell them his own selection, but was unable to complete the transaction because the minister had not accepted that he had complied with the residence and improvement conditions.44
At the re-hearings on 31 July 1879, George appeared as witness for Robert, and John as witness for George. They also brought along a fellow selector, William Ryan, who testified to Robert's well and residence, and labourer John Smith who spoke on behalf of George. But Commissioner Delaney heard nothing to change his mind, and recommended again that the selections be forfeited for non-compliance.45
Agent George Lonsdale, present at the re-hearing, continued to lobby the new Minister for Lands, James Hoskins, but George Dougherty, now crippled, had moved back to Singleton, and took the case to his own member for parliament, William Charles Browne MP. Browne was member for Patricks Plains, John McElhone's brother-in-law and son of the wealthy Catholic benefactor of Singleton, John Browne. WC Browne investigated, and seems to have advised George that his land was likely to be forfeited. George replied on 17 November 1879 that his interest payment had been accepted, and he thought that meant his compliance had also been accepted as he had not been told otherwise.46
Nevertheless both lands were forfeited, and gazetted as such on 10 March 1880. Robert, young and nervous at all this swearing and politicking, seems to have accepted his forfeiture at this stage. Robert remained in the area, working for other landowners and carrying on the roads, but never selected again.
George, left to fight on after John and Robert's departure, continued to lobby the politicians from Singleton, where he had purchased a small farm on the Mundawah Creek at Westbrook.48 The next politician to become involved was Herbert Harrington Brown, pastoralist, land and stock agent, and member for Durham. On 15 April 1880 his company wrote a long and persuasive letter to the Chief Commissioner, Conditional Sales Branch, asking that the forfeiture of George's land be revoked, and pointing out that if George had sunk three deep wells by hand in only 18 months he must have been resident on the land.49 The Chief Commissioner agreed, and recommended yet another re-hearing of the case, which finally occurred at Tambar Springs on 1 December 1881.
Once again George, Robert and William Ryan appeared as witnesses, as did James Jones, Bando superintendent. The same evidence was tendered, but this time, instead of recommending forfeiture, Commissioner Delaney merely forwarded the papers without recommendation, explaining later that he knew the cases were out of his hands and the minister would make the decision.50 The then minister for Lands, Sir John Robertson, did just that, and directed that the forfeiture stand.
In the meantime, Mary Dougherty, formerly Sharp nee Graham, worn out from the hard struggle, died at Sedgefield (probably Westbrook) near Singleton on 8 March 1881.51 Unable to carry on alone, George sold the 120-acre farm three weeks later.52 On 27 June he married Ellen Kilroy nee Reilly, a widow with eight young children, at which time he was operating a wineshop at Westbrook.53 But the business must have been too much for him to manage in his invalid condition, as by December 1884 he had moved into George Street Singleton.
In April 1881 the Whites applied for the sale by auction of the lands. The auction was advertised on 29 August 1882; on 4 October, the lands went to auction, and, unsurprisingly, were bought by the White brothers at the minimum upset price of 25 shillings per acre.54 George would have been enraged at what he saw as collusion and sale by the Crown of what he regarded as his lawful property. Letters and meetings ensued between HH Brown and Co, solicitor Albert Gould, and the minister, but to no avail.
Then the pugnacious John McElhone decided the time was ripe to bring up the case in parliament. The "land war" was at its height and governments were being formed and falling on the land turmoil. In the speech that brought down the Parkes ministry, on 16 November 1882, McElhone said:
... Then there is another poor wretch named Dougharty, who took up a selection on Bando Run. While he was away earning a little money Inspector Geary, who was bribed by the Whites, went on the selection, and, not finding Dougharty there, as a matter of course reported him non-resident. This scoundrel, Commissioner Davidson [Delaney], stayed a night at Bando, where he got gloriously drunk; and the next day the man lost his selection. The selector appealed to the honorable member for Durham to secure a re-hearing of the case; this was granted, and the man got the land. He was then told by the commissioner of conditional purchases that he was one of White's dummies. I know that the man was not a dummy, and he was persecuted by the Whites, who brought an action against him for trespass, and ruined him. ...55
Parliament was dissolved immediately after, and the Stuart ministry appointed, with JS Farnell back as Minister for Lands, and the energetic Singleton solicitor Albert Gould as the new member for Patricks Plains. With George still on his back no doubt, Gould met with the new minister in January 1883, then moved on 7 March that all the papers regarding George's selection be laid upon the Table of the House. This was done on 18 April. The matter seems to have been forgotten or shelved while the lands inquiry was being conducted (see Box). On 14 February 1884, Mr Burns on behalf of Mr Gould moved that a Select Committee be appointed to enquire into George's forfeiture. This was passed, and the Committee sat in March 1884 with Mr Gould as chairman.57
George travelled down to Sydney to give evidence at the Select Committee, as did Commissioner Delaney and the Chief Commissioner for Conditional Sales, Mr Moriarty. It is difficult to know how much of George's contradictory evidence, especially relating to dates, stems from an illiterate Irishman's casual approach to time, and how much is typical of the false swearing on oath which characterised the land selection period. By this time, almost five years after he left the land, and eight years after he first selected it, George was understandably confused about dates, enquiries, statements. Delaney and Moriarty, moreover, had the advantage of being able to review the files before giving evidence. George swore he had lived on the land continuously for three years, and he never had and never would contract with the Whites to sell it. Moriarty recalled George's letter, on file in the Lands Department, where he advised WC Browne that he had sold the land to the Whites, but could not get his money until the Department accepted his declaration of compliance.
The crucial evidence seemed to be Commissioner Delaney's forwarding of the papers from the December 1881 inquiry without a recommendation, and his admission that, on the evidence of his last enquiry, had he not known about the previous evidence, he would have ruled that the conditions of residence and improvements had been satisfied. (It is interesting that no-one in authority appears to have inspected the improvements, other than Inspector Geary back in 1877. Delaney admitted he never saw the selection, and evidently held the view that the inquiry should judge on evidence tendered by prosecution and defence only.) The department was further embarrassed by the fact that it had continued to accept George's annual interest payments from 1880 to 1882, implying that he was the recognised purchaser. It seems the department was backing down in the face of the political pressure and George's persistence. The Committee came out in favour of George and on 21 May 1884, recommended his case "to the favourable consideration of the Government." Mr Gould duly brought up the Committee's report in the House the following day, and the report was printed, but no-one moved that the report be adopted, so no further action was taken.
In December 1884 George wrote to the Lands Department seeking compensation for his interest payments and land, but the Department, knowing that the House had not adopted the Select Committee Report, ignored the letter.58
After three changes of government and a major revision of the free selection acts, on 30 March 1886 Mr Burns moved in the House for another Select Committee to re-investigate George's case. The second committee duly met, again with Mr Gould as chairman, and re-affirmed the previous recommendation.59 Mr Gould then moved in the House on 28 May that the report be adopted. Heated debate ensued, and it is interesting to review the positions taken by the various politicians in those days when ministries were formed by "loose associations" of factions, and parties and party discipline had not yet emerged.
Henry Copeland, secretary for Lands, said the case had been dealt with over and over again, by the department and three ministers for lands, and he objected if the House was to administer the lands department. Richard Thompson, member for West Maitland, thought an attempt was being made to get at the good nature of the House for the purpose of inflicting a wrong on the public, and accused solicitor Gould of having a personal or "cliental" interest in the case. Thomas de Courcy Browne, member for Mudgee, said Dougherty had been dealt with "most unjustly" and this was only one of many cases where selectors had been "harassed until they were driven off the run by the squatters and by the unjust action of the Lands Department". He said Commissioner Delaney, "not a son of temperance", had "neither the honesty nor the moral courage to do justice by admitting that he had made a mistake", and "it was the duty of the House to see that justice was done to Dougherty". Septimus Steven, member for Canterbury, thought Dougherty should at least be refunded his interest paid since his land was forfeited. Jacob Garrard, member for Balmain, Edward O'Sullivan, member for Queanbeyan, and Michael Burke, member for Tamworth, all thought that if the only reason the secretary for Lands was opposing the case was because he feared it would open the floodgates to other similar cases, then the House had a duty to support Dougherty. James Inglis, member for New England, thought the only opposition to Dougherty's claim had been departmental, and justice ought to be done to the selector. Albert Gould, in summing up, asked whether the fact that Dougherty lived in a gunyah instead of a house was any reason for repudiating his claim.60
The House finally voted, and with 27 "ayes" and 12 "noes", George won his case.
Twelve months later, however, George had still not received any compensation for his loss. On 15 July 1887, with the help of Hanley Bennett, he wrote to the minister for Lands from Macquarie Street Singleton:
At your earliest convenience be good enough to forward to my address as under-written a pay voucher on the Treasurer for the sum of £420 granted to me by the department, the same being compensation for loss of my conditional purchase land situated Bando, Liverpool Plains, which amount was passed by the Legislative Assembly and included in the appropriation bill, as I am in great distress and want, and have been so for a long time, and unable to follow any employment.61
Finally, on 10 August 1887, eight years after George left Bando, the voucher was passed to Treasury and on to George for £419.5.0, being compensation at £1.5.0 per acre for wrongly forfeiting his land plus reimbursement of his interest payments. To the end the department doubted that the wells ever existed,62 and it seems no-one ever checked.
Having received his cheque and no doubt paid his legal bills, George and Ellen continued to live out their old age in Macquarie Street Singleton. George now walked only with the aid of a stick, but he retained an active interest in politics.
On 10 May 1894 future prime minister William Morris ("Billy") Hughes paid a visit to Singleton recruiting for the new Labor League (the forerunner to today's Australian Labor Party). Mr Hughes addressed a meeting in the Mechanics' Institute, which George attended. But as George was advancing up the hall, he slipped heavily and fell, breaking his right thigh bone close to the knee. He was taken to the local Dangar Cottage hospital, where he remained for at least the remainder of May. When he was finally discharged the old man was even more crippled.63
By 1906 George was permanently bedridden, and this extraordinary man died on 11 February 1907 at "the ripe age of 82 years".64
Stepsons Thomas and John Sharp remained on the land. Thomas sold his Tambar Springs property in 1877 to his stepson William John Morris, who sold up in 1881 to the squatter Andrew Town and moved to other property closer to Gunnedah. Thomas moved onto land in Queensland, returning to Gunnedah in his later years. John selected again in the Barraba district. John's sons in turn acquired properties on the Liverpool Plains. So although George's fight with the system did not leave a personal legacy, his efforts led the way for the next generation of Irish-Australians to fulfil the "great Australian dream" and settle on the land.
Copyright © 2003 Patricia Downes
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