I was always told that my ancestors, Brown and Bloodsworth, lived and worked at Dabee, which I took to mean the original Fitzgerald/Evans property. But no. The early colonists who read newspapers understood that Dabee (or Davey or Dabey) was an area between Bathurst and Mudgee, edged by Bogee, Pylong and Capertee. Many of our earliest pioneers were reported to have land at Dabee in the 1830s or before: Edward Cox, Richard Fitzgerald, Thomas Parmeter, John Tindale, James Bloodsworth, George Tailby, James Neville, William Tindall, William Bowman, Charles George Temple Chauvel, Joseph Herbert, James and William Walker and Thomas Jarmon Hawkins.
On 27 March 1827 William Charles Wentworth, founder and editor of The Australian (1824-1848), wrote of our area: “Daby is another favourite spot for large cattle holders as it lies in the direct route from Bathurst to Hunter’s River and is besides an extensive plain of many miles of the richest soil, without a tree. It will perhaps sooner become of importance than even Mudgee. The Cudgegong River runs through the middle of the plains.”
After Cox built the road over the Blue Mountains, Macquarie hoisted the flag at Bathurst and gave a number of grants to a select few. Flocks of sheep and herds of cattle were driven to their new pastures on the Bathurst plains. The “squatters’ run” was on! Intrepid and enterprising men explored north east to what would become Mudgee and Dabee. They found rich grazing land near rivers and claimed their spots by driving their herds and flocks there. Skirmishes between claimants occasionally arose, but this only resulted in more land being discovered. Once settled many of them sent their flocks and herds further north, east and west to claim even more land.
Once they occupied the land at Dabee (from about 1820) they got nominal ownership through grants and conditional grants (confirmed in the 1830s). From 1834 they could also purchase their land at public auction at five shillings an acre; or by paying quit-rents, effectively peppercorn rents. By my calculation, Edward Cox’s land at Dabee in 1836 was 10,167 acres, acquired through purchase, grant and quik-rent. Fitzgerald had 4000 acres, 2000 of which had been granted to Lady Macquarie and confirmed by Governor Burke in 1837. As the executor of her will Fitzgerald put the land up for auction, then purchased it. He also had runs further north and around Bathurst and Sydney.
So what was life like at Dabee in its first two decades? The Bathurst that Wentworth described in the above newspaper article was “nine or ten low thatched huts…occupied by government officers”, so we can’t expect much of Dabee. One thing the squatters had was plenty of convicts – assigning convicts saved the government money. Early landholders were given twenty cows to make up for the expense of feeding and clothing their convicts, with daily rations of one pound of flour, one pound of meat, tea, sugar and spirits, and £10 a year.
The first job of the convicts was to make dwellings, bark huts with clay floors. Then a stock yard, with a post and rail fence – to house the stock at night and for branding. Closer to shearing time a large shed of posts, slabs, bark and saplings.
It was a simple lonely life. At night, a billy brewed over a fire, meat roasted, and damper baked in the ashes. Bedding was a piece of bark with blankets. In the morning shepherds took their flocks and herds to graze over extensive unfenced land and brought them back at night. Gradually wheat and potatoes, vines and fruit trees, were established. Wentworth was effusive about the abundant fish, birds and game that could be had out west, so I daresay the convicts tried their hand at whatever moved, though unlike Wentworth they wouldn’t have had a gun.
There was nowhere much to go. Rylstone hadn’t been thought of. Workers travelled by foot, overseers and owners rode horses, drays brought supplies from Sydney and carried back loosely packed wool bales. It was convict road gangs, improving roads and building bridges, that one was most likely to meet along the way.
It should be said, this wasn’t the life of the squatters. They were absentee landowners. Cox lived at “Fanhills” at Camden, Bowman at Richmond, Fitzgerald at Windsor and Bloodsworth at O’Connell Street Sydney. They were the colonial gentry, fraternising with their peers, making deals, raising capital and writing letters to public officials and newspapers. They paid an overseer (often ex-convict) or relative, to manage their holdings, though no doubt they rode up occasionally to see how their investment was going.
The landowners weren’t always best friends. Wentworth hoped “these private feuds will not long continue to stain the character of our country gentlemen”. Eighteen months later the Sydney Monitor (27/10/1828) exposed a feud between Cox and Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald’s sheep roamed into a seven acre field of Cox’s wheat. Cox’s overseer Newland, without informing Fitzgerald’s men (who were only two miles away) ordered three of his men to round up and drive a thousand or so of Fitzgerald’s sheep to the pound, seventy miles away, and a five day trip. Fitzgerald’s overseer confronted Newland, read him an extract from the Impounding Act and promised to pay all expenses if he would return the sheep. Futile. “My master will bear me out, as it was his orders,” Newland replied. 948 ewes and lambs were impounded for eight days at twopence per head per day and cost Fitzgerald eighty-three pounds four shillings, plus the loss of sheep along the way. Was it an “outrageous act” with “malevolent motive”? When Mr Cox’s wheat was examined later “all persons present declared the wheat received no injury by Mr Fitzgerald’s sheep”.
Aborigines lived in Dabee country (after all they named it) but there has always been an uncomfortable silence about their fate. Wentworth said he only saw three blacks in his four hundred mile ride and concluded “the black race is visibly declining in numerical strength every year”. He referred to the white stockkeepers who “for want of white female companions” cohabited with black women and passed on diseases with fatal results to the tribes. There were certainly reports of Aborigines stealing and spearing stock and killing shepherds, but strangely no reports of white retaliation. Madge Green’s oral record suggests massacre without investigation or trial was the whites’ most efficient way of dealing with Aborigines. There are stories of Aborigines working as shepherds, shearers and stockmen; milking cows for settlers; tracking strayed stock and bushrangers; and living peacefully and protectively on settlers’ lands. Without doubt all of the above took place in the Dabee area in that first twenty years.
Bushrangers were an alarming probability. News reports tell of raids at Bloodsworth’s station (three times) as well as Neville’s, Tindall’s, Bowman’s, Hawkins’ and Walker’s. “Scarcely a dray passes Cherry Tree Hill without getting robbed,” wrote the Sydney Herald, “sixteen drays…in six weeks”. “The place swarms with an armed and mounted banditti,” reported the Commercial Journal. It wasn’t as if there were no police in pursuit. A detachment of mounted police were stationed at Dabee in the 1830s, provisioned with food and forage by the successful tenderer.
The most notorious bushranger was Alexander Lambert. In 1936 his gang murdered Corporal Hardman at Dabee. Lambert was found guilty of being an accessory to the murder and sentenced to death, but it was later nullified on a technicality. While in custody Lambert hatched an unsuccessful escape plot and was given 100 lashes. He was back on Goat Island in 1839, but escaped in April and with his gang began a four month rampage around Mudgee and Dabee. In May 1840 he was found guilty of bushranging and highway robbery and transported to Norfolk Island with the recommendation: never to be returned to the colony.
Today, place names, family names and properties are a reminder of the early decades of white settlement at Dabee. But one place has me bothered – Dabee village. Land was set aside for a village reserve sometime before 1836. By the time the village was put to auction on 22 February 1855, the survey plan showed nineteen allotments of five to seven acres within the streets: West, East, Nullo, Crown, Rawden, Clandulla and F J Smith Road. The buyers were: Edward Cox (6 lots), George Bloodworth (6) William Guinen (2) Richard Young (1) John Tooney (1) John Sheehan (1) James Batten (1) and I Coxen (1).
The puzzle is, why establish the village of Dabee when Rylstone was gazetted in 1843 and allotments auctioned from 1846. Did Edward Cox and this group of settlers hope Dabee would overtake Rylstone? Did any of them build houses at Dabee, or at least shacks? Edward Cox, whose land bordered the village, was a member of the NSW Legislative Council. Was it through his influence that the village was surveyed and auctioned? Perhaps this colonial blue-blood was embedding his fiefdom in the name Dabee.
If so it didn’t work. Robert Marsden Fitzgerald took possession of the name Dabee in 1870. In 1918 Phillip Moreton, the new owner of Rawden, applied to have the village roads closed; and the Government Gazette gave notice of it.
The featured image of the survey plan of Dabee village was accessed from NSW Land Registry Services.