Friday, 29 November 2013


JOHN CLARK WITH WIFE AND DAUGHTERS. LATE 1890'S. Source: Personal Collection.

John, Jane and Mary Ann (their baby daughter) arrived at a staging post on the Queensland border three months after leaving the Hunter Valley minus the police posse.  For those who don’t know geography, Queensland is a state of Australia. It’s our version of Texas.

It was at the staging post that John Clark showed his bravery and canniness when he agreed to drive a mob of cattle (for a good price and the fact that no one else wanted to do it) north to a station near the settlement of Bowen. The town had only been established one year before. Was he crazy? After here, there were barely any settlements or roads for a thousand miles. Most of the land north had only just been explored by Europeans. Bowen was a long way away and the Aborigines whose land he would be passing through were known to be hostile.

 John Clark had such an air of confidence about him that several men decided to join his party. But John Clark had a clever idea about dealing with hostile Aborigines. Two local Aborigines, a male and female named Roddy and Billy who he had befriended, agreed to come with him. As the party travelled north, Roddy and Billy were able to negotiate safe passage through the different tribal lands they passed through.

Things did get a little sticky one night when they thought their camp would be attacked. Even Billy and Roddy were worried. Roddy apparently told John Clark to grab, “the stick that goes ha-ha.” (his exact words). Roddy was of course referring to a gun. John Clark fired a shot over the heads of the Aborigines and they quickly dispersed.
After several months on the road everyone arrived in Bowen alive and well.  Impressed by the good  condition of the cattle, John Clark was made manager of the station.

 As for Roddy and Billy? They would remain with John and his family the rest of their lives. Billy delivered several of John Clark’s children at Lornesleigh Station and Roddy is buried next to John Clark.  

Tuesday, 26 November 2013



All family history seemed to begin with my great grandfather, John Henry Clark.  Of course, you are going to give him a big credit.  He was the man that made the family fortune. (The disappearing fortune? There’s another blog in that).
 I’ve always been surprised that my surname isn’t Clark rather than Bell such is the impact of this man. Yet he remains a little bit of a mystery.

The family tales are that he was born in Australia. His father died when he was a child and he was sent to an uncle. The uncle was a tyrant and John ran away to make his own way in life at the age of thirteen. Never learning to read or write, he soon developed a canny nose for business and became a gifted horseman. At one stage he operated a stage coach company on the Victorian goldfields. Then in the 1860's, he decided to take wife and child put them on a bullock dray and head to greener pastures in northern Australia, all the way from the Hunter Valley, New South Wales. Well, some of it is true. Some isn’t.
Then I read some old newspapers and convict records from the 1850's. Isn’t the internet a great resource? The real John Henry Clark was born in Perthshire, Scotland in the 1820's. His family appeared to be farmers and weavers. Nothing more is heard of him until the 1840's, when he is tried in Glasgow for stealing. A sentence of five years transportation to Australia was the result.  

The convict system was becoming unpopular in Australia and would end soon. As a result, John didn't do it hard like many earlier convicts. He got assigned to work on a cattle property in the Hunter Valley, New South Wales. I guess, this was all useful experience for a man who would later be running a vast cattle empire. He did his time, became an inn operator then a butcher at a place called Murrurundi, New South Wales. He was probably a stage coach driver but never an owner.
In the early 1860's he met and married Jane Farrell, the daughter of the local policeman and the hospital matron. John was moving up the social ladder.  But strangely John, Jane and a baby daughter were heading north to the newly opened lands of north Queensland in 1861; a dangerous journey of nearly two thousand miles that would take months to complete. Not travelling on a train or on a ship but by means of a bullock wagon. Very uncomfortable.
 What I discovered was that the move wasn’t necessarily motivated by a thirst for fortune. It was also motivated by his mother in-law.  John Clark was in trouble again. Again.
Matron Farrell had gone to the police saying that her son in-law had been stealing cattle (one of Australia's oldest occupations). The police were closing in fast. To avoid arrest John grabbed his young family, hitched up the bullock wagon one night and legged it out of town .

The things a man will do to get away from his mother in-law.

Saturday, 23 November 2013


JOHN CLARK.1880. Source: Personal Collection.

I’ve mentioned my great grandfather, John Clark, in previous blogs. I’m going to write about his life over several blogs; an amazing life that ran for ninety-four years. He was an aristocrat of the Australian variety—which is a bit different to the English and European variety.
I have a confession to make—John Clark was a convict, a jail bird. He didn’t kill anyone or do anything particularly evil. He would have been hung for that or any of the other two hundred offences in the nineteenth century that carried the death penalty. It’s mind boggling that people were transported to Australia for seven years just for stealing a handkerchief. Most poor unfortunates committed crimes because of poverty. John Clark was a humble thief who got caught. Confessing this to you is probably going to set prim and proper Aunt Maud rolling in her grave.
Australians call convicts aristocracy because they founded this nation. Where once you never dared admit you were an ex-convict or descended from one, now we say it with pride. It’s no longer an insult. So there, English rugby and cricket fans!

CONVICT SHIP. Source: les-nuits-masquees.blogspot.

CONVICTS. 1860's. Source: blogs.smithsonian.

Australia can thank America for our convicts. Until independence, the British Isles sent their convicts to America. But from 1788 right up until the 1860's, convicts were transported to Australia. Most were male, but there were also female and even child convicts. While some were rebels and trade unionists, London’s East End poor, the rural poor and Irish made up the majority. Technological change was a bad thing for unskilled workers in those days too.
Being a convict could be tolerable if you decided to just get on with it and do your time. At the end of your seven years you got one hundred acres of land that you could call your own. (If you want to learn more, look up Wikipedia).
Not only was John Clark a convict, but his wife, Esther Geary, my great-grandmother, was descended from convicts. The Gearys were a wild, wild bunch. From attempted murderer to policeman, that was my great-great-great grandfather, Daniel Geary. 

More about him next time. So, you see I’m a true Australian aristocrat. You can stop spinning now Aunty Maud. You’ll only make yourself dizzy!

To be continued.           

Wednesday, 20 November 2013


Stock yards, Lornesleigh Station.

I used to love it when the stockmen came to Lornesleigh Station to muster. Usually only my parents and I lived on the station along with a sundry collection of pets. 

The arrival of six or seven stockmen meant a change from the isolation for me as we didn’t have visitors very often. For Mum and Dad it meant more hard work on top of what they were already doing.
 Most of Mum’s time was taken up with home schooling me ( she had her work cut out there) and keeping a large homestead operating. With the arrival of the stockmen, it also meant she had to cook two hot meals for the men and make lunches ( usually sandwiches) that they would take on the muster packed in their saddle bags.

 And for Dad it meant having to get up before dawn to wake the stockmen. After breakfast the horses were caught and saddled and the day began. It meant a long day in the saddle in all weather conditions, only stopping for lunch.  By late afternoon a cloud of dust could be seen, then the sounds of hundreds of cattle, cracking whips and shouting men as they came towards the cattle yards.
Unfortunately for my fastidious mother, the cattle yards, which held five hundred head, were located close to the homestead. As a result, lots of dust drifted into the house when they were being used. Poor Mum was always cleaning.

Bob Masso shoeing a horse, Lornesleigh Station.

I would sit on a fence post and watch the men and the cattle with awe as they pushed the cattle into the yards. To a young bush kid, the stockmen were heroes. I remember Dad galloping after a breakaway steer and pushing it back into the mob with several cracks of the stockwhip. Dad was a crack rider, like most of his family. Another time I saw my cousin, Neville Coleman (he’s twenty years older than me), gallop beside a steer, jump off the horse, grab it by the horns and pull it down.

When I look back on it now, I wonder how the stockmen weren’t hurt or killed all the time. I think not only was there a lot of skill and bravery involved but also a measure of recklessness. To be continued.

Sunday, 17 November 2013



You couldn't have more different worlds than the Australian bush and Buckingham Palace but a horse named Rupert experienced both of them.

Rupert was born in 1894 at Grosvenor Downs, a 550 square mile cattle station in the Australian outback. He was also the horse that carried King George V of England (the grandfather of Queen Elizabeth II) around during ceremonial duties for over ten years.

Before my great grandfather, John Clark, bought Grosvenor Downs, the station was owned by Alexander McDonald (a Scot) and his wife Isabella Clark (Isabella was my great grandfather’s half- sister).
For the horse enthusiasts, Rupert was a black Australian Waler, a horse breed renowned for their endurance, who stood at 15.3 hands. Walers are a combination of Arab, Thoroughbred and Timor Pony. Many were exported to India as cavalry remounts. The Waler became legendary in the Middle East during World War One when they were used as horses for the Australian cavalry. It wasn’t uncommon for them to go two days without water and cross hundreds of miles of desert with little rest then having to charge Turkish gun emplacements at the end of it. Truly amazing horses.

Thankfully Rupert avoided military service. He was exported to India in 1903 from Grosvenor Downs and was sold to a Lieutenant Boyd in the Horse Artillery. During a visit to India in 1906, the Prince of Wales (as King George V was then), took a shine to Rupert and offered to buy the horse. In the letter I have from the Royal Archives, the Prince bought Rupert but in the story I heard, the Lieutenant thought he would be breaching royal protocol if money was exchanged, and instead he gave Rupert to the Prince as a gift. Rupert returned to England with Lieutenant Boyd and was accommodated at the Prince’s London home, Marlborough House.

King George rode him in the funeral procession of his Father, King Edward VII and a review of Australian troops during World War One. The story is that he rode Rupert in the funeral cortege of his father, as he could sit higher in the saddle than his despised cousin, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany. Families—don’t you love them?

Rupert lived a long, distinguished and comfortable life, and was sadly put down at the age of 26 on the 28th February 1920. 

Wednesday, 13 November 2013


WILD RIDER. T.J BELL.1913. Source: Personal Collection.
As I mentioned in my previous blog I had several relatives who went to India with J.S. Love. One relative nearly introduced monkeys into Australia and the other nearly caused an uprising.

Thomas James Bell or T.J. as he was commonly called was one of the wild and crazy members of the family. I will be covering his other escapades in future blogs. T.J. enjoyed telling his young nephews and nieces ( one of them was my Dad) of his time in India.

 He especially loved horrifying them with his story about seeing dead human bodies floating down the Hooghly River, a river that flows through Calcutta. As we know the placing of a body in a river is an Indian burial custom. I’m sure my Grandmother would not have been pleased with T.J.’s story. 

Before his return to Australia he decided to buy a monkey for a pet. As you do.  Thankfully only one, because Australia has enough out of control feral animals ( rabbits, foxes, cane toads, feral cats etc). Thankfully also the custom officials removed it from him on his return to Australia. I have a vision of monkeys gone wild in the bush and competing for supremacy with our koalas. I put my money on the koalas.  
A first cousin of Dad’s also went to India to break in horses. He was from Grosvenor Downs, a cattle station my great grandfather John Clark, had bought for his daughter as a wedding present.
The cousin and the other Australian horse breakers were returning home in a T Ford after a hard day when they were forced to stop. A cow was blocking the road. The impatient cousin jumped out of the car and decided to remove it. The men from the bush were unaware that cows are scared in India.

The cousin tried to scare it but without success. He then hopped on its back of the docile cow and started kicking it. Only then did the cow move slowly off the road. He couldn’t celebrate for long as the cousin was soon being chased by a mob of angry villagers hot on his heels. The cousin ran to the car and jumped in. Luckily for them the T Ford was faster than the locals and got away. Just.

Next blog. From the bush to Buckingham Palace.

Monday, 11 November 2013


HORSE SALE 1909. Source: Personal Collection.

Apart from running various cattle stations, my family were also heavily involved in the export horse trade that ran from the 1890s to the 1930s. The biggest market was India which was then part of the British Empire.

All types of horses were exported from the towns of Bowen and Townsville in North Queensland. Most of the horses exported were for the British cavalry. Apart from India the horses were also sent to South Africa during the Boer War and to the various theatres in World War One. An average of 2,000 horses were sent annually overseas, peaking at nearly 5,000 during one year. 

It was a lucrative trade for the station owners. An average price for a horse was eight to ten pounds a head which was far better than prices for cattle. My great grandfather, John Henry Clark found it profitable enough that he bought a station and set it aside for the sole purpose of horse breeding.
Horse sales were large affairs conducted for over a week in the major towns in the north. In that time hundreds of horses would be sold. The Australian horses were popular as they were hardier than the horses that were sent from England to India. Many buyers at these sales were British agents from India.

 The horse trade was run by a Scotsman called James Simpson Love, a tall, energetic, self-made man who regularly travelled on the ship with his horses to India. The horse trade was very kind for J.S. Love. At one stage he owned fourteen cattle stations and travelled around in a Bentley.
In a newspaper interview in 1928 he said he, “found India fascinating but it wasn’t very healthy as had you had to drink distilled water or imported aerated waters.” 
J.S.Love died in 1933 on board the horse-trade boat in Townsville harbour after returning from a trip to India.
Several of my relatives would go to India with J.S. Love to break in the horses in Calcutta (Kolkata) but more about their exploits in India in my next blog. 

Saturday, 9 November 2013


Neville Coleman, Lornesleigh Station.

Being a stockmen was a hard way to live, work and die. There are two graves of stockmen that I know of on the old family stations to prove it. Remember, that station is only one of many cattle stations in northern Australia. It would be interesting to know how many men and women died getting the meat to the table.

In the old days before cars and airplanes, where you died you usually got buried for obvious reasons. I was told of a stockman being killed after he was thrown from a horse at a place called Long Mick Swamp. The famous bush poem, The Dying Stockman could have been his epitaph:

“Wrap me up in my stockwhip and blanket
And bury me deep down below.
Where the dingoes and crows won’t molest me
In the shade of the coolibah tree.

Bob Masso, Lornesleight Station.

Then there’s the sad tale of a young stockman who came from the city named Andrew Rutherford who drowned trying to swim across a river with his horse. His parents later sent a headstone which stood for many years over his grave on the riverbank where he was retrieved. 

I remember as a kid in the late 1960s, a stockman called Sam Gooley on the next door property dying after he crashed into a tree whilst galloping through thick shrub. The owner of the station, Bill Hatfield, later told Dad that he hadn’t seen injuries like that since his time as a soldier in North Africa.

As I know, stockman wouldn’t have wanted me to dwell on the dangers of their occupation. They were a fatalistic, hard-living, laconic lot with a dry sense of humour. I guess part of the Australian identity comes from them. So I’ll end with a funny story.
My Grandmother Bell was a good boss. So much so that she used to make pies for the men ( apple pies were her speciality) to take on their long mustering trips. The  dozen or so pies were carefully packed into pack saddles that were slung over the pack horse’s back. That day the pack horse wasn’t having any of it and before they could strap the saddles closed, the horse had bucked and thrown the pies all over the paddock.

 I have a feeling that horse wasn’t very popular that day.      

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

STOCKMEN (Warning to those of Aboriginal descent. Following photos may contain images of deceased people.)

Australian stockmen are legendary horsemen; their feats of endurance and bravery in the saddle have passed into Australian folklore.  The horses they rode are also legendary. As the following story certainly shows.

It was in my grandfather Bell’s time, probably around the turn of the twentieth century. The stockmen or ringers as they are also called were droving a mob of cattle to the meatworks on the coast. These trips took about a week.
At the end of the day camp was set up, a campfire started by the cook, the men fed ( usually on corn beef, damper and tea),  and the horses were hobbled at the legs so they would not wander too far away. Swags were rolled out ready for the start next day at dawn. The ringers slept in shifts as they had to take turns keeping the cattle settled during the night. This involved riding around the cattle keeping them bunched together, keeping them calm.
 Cattle at night can be easily “spooked” by noises such as distant thunder or the howl of a dingo. So the ringers took it in two hour shifts. If that involved the stockman singing a lullaby to the cattle, speaking their innermost thoughts or playing a mouth organ they did it.  Just like the cowboy movies.
 A stampede or rush at night is the most dangerous event that can happen to a stockman. It’s not a pleasant way to die been trampled to death by a thousand terrified cattle as they gallop over you. 

Unfortunately, I can’t remember the stockman’s name but he was an older Aboriginal man who was riding that night.  As he rode around checking the mob ( there was about thousand head) he sensed they were restless. He tried singing to them but it wasn’t doing any good. Then he realised why. He could hear distant thunder.
 It was about two o’clock in the morning when the cattle snapped and all hell broke loose. The cattle took off through the bush at a thunderous pace, the stockman galloping hard to get ahead of the leaders and turn the cattle around before they scattered to the four winds ( remember this is night time). By hard riding he managed to get ahead of the mob.
 He then felt a strange sensation as if he and the horse were flying. A few seconds later the horse came down with a thud, the stockman still in the saddle. By this time the other ringers were awake, had grabbed their horses and had turned the cattle around. Disaster averted.

The Aboriginal stockman and the horse had indeed been airborne. Unknown to the stockman, the horse had jumped across a deep gully. When measured from where the horse took off until when it was landed it was a distance of 25 feet ( 7.6 metres).
 To put that into perspective, the longest jump ever by a horse has been 27 feet 6/4 inches (8.4 metres) done of course during the day.

This is a true story told to me by my father.

Sunday, 3 November 2013


SIMBA AND DAD. Source: Personal Collection.

Uncle George took horse eventing very seriously, whereas Dad treated it as a holiday from the station. There were plenty of parties with the other riders and Dad was particularly friendly with Jimmy Sharman and his boxing troupe, who also travelled the show circuit.

Dad and George did often compete against each other. They rode in camp drafting, hack, show hunter and show jumping events. Dad won many events and he once won overall champion at one show. However, when they competed against each other and Dad and Simba won, Uncle George wouldn’t talk to my father for a day or so. 

Dad’s show-riding days ended when he met my mum at the Brisbane show. She was also a keen horsewoman and a pretty talented rider. They were introduced to each other by Mum’s sister, Betty, who was riding the shows with Dad and George. At the time, Mum really stood out. She’d had a fall off a horse and was in plaster from neck to tailbone, having broken her back.

Even after his eventing days were over, Simba remained Dad’s stock horse and they rode musters together. He and Simba were one when they galloped. Dad used to carry a pistol and he often shot wild, scrub cattle off Simba at a gallop. When other horses lost their nerve with the sound of a shot going past their ears, Simba never once lost his rhythm.

I remember Dad telling me how, on one occasion, when they were on a muster, Simba stepped into a hole at full gallop. He stopped short, fell and rolled right over Dad, and the only reason why Dad wasn’t killed that day was that there was a depression in the ground that Dad’s body just fit into. It wasn’t his time that day, he reckoned.
They had such a special bond that no-one else, apart from Dad, could ride Simba. My half-sister Janice unfortunately found that out when she tried to ride him one day. She ended up thrown from Simba and rushed to hospital with a broken jaw.
Simba was a special horse. He was never found after disappearing in the 1958 flood, and Sparrow Lavery never said what happened to Simba that day. For months after, Dad searched for his body without success.
 To Dad, Simba’s loss was the same as losing a best mate.

More stories of stock horses, cavalry horses and royalty to come.         

Friday, 1 November 2013


SIMBA AND DAD. Source: Personal Collection.

In an earlier blog, I briefly mentioned the love of Dad’s life. No, not my mum (although I like to think she might have been that), but his horse, Simba. I’ve already talked about Simba’s disappearance during the 1958 flood. Before I tell you exactly what happened to him, I’d better tell you more about him.

In the days before motorbikes and helicopters replaced horses, most graziers had a special connection to their horses. They were transport as well as workers. My family had a unique bond to their horses. I’ll reveal why as I tell their story.

When I was younger, I remember seeing my family’s stud books that went all the way back to the 1860’s. I’ll post a picture of them on my blog, if I ever find what I did with them.
 Anyway, Simba was bred on my family’s Mount McConnell station. He was part Arab, part- thoroughbred and descended from the bloodlines of stallions that my great grandfather, John Clark had bought in horse sales in Sydney and Melbourne in the late nineteenth century. John Clark was keen on having the best bloodlines in the north and clearly wasn’t short of a quid, as several stallions he bought had won major races in Sydney and Melbourne.

Dad picked Simba out initially as a stock horse, but at the time Dad was keen on riding in the horse events at the shows with his brother, George. For the uninitiated, a show is an agricultural fair, held in nearly every city and major town in Australia. Dad noticed that Simba was a good jumper and so that is what he was trained primarily for. 
When Dad and George weren’t working hard on the family stations, they would ride the show circuit around Queensland. They travelled from town show to town show, competing and having a good time. 
Back then, horse people didn’t have the luxury of having a four-wheel drive with a horse float, as they do now. Instead, they travelled on a steam train with their horses in the horse carriages, even sleeping in the stall with their horse. In this way, a special bond developed between man and horse. So much so that Dad and Simba would even have a beer together on a hot day. Before you ask—not at the pub or out of the same bottle, of course.

To be continued.