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.  
BALL AND CHAIN. Source: heritagegenealogy.com

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.