Lake Macquarie History

Letter from Richard Fennell to his brother William, 3rd September 1850

Lake MacQuarie
3rd September 1850

Dear William,

As you will perceive by the enclosed I wrote you some months since but have had no means of sending the letter. I will now take up the story from our setting down at Trialba. The station is well situated for feed and water, the latter a very scarce commodity in these localities, but all the grazing land round this lake is hard for cattle which never thrive or get fat and are very subject to what the residents here call "pains", a complaint no-one can account for the symptoms, an inability to walk, the back humped up, coat staring and gradually they pine away until death ensues in most cases. I believe some are cured by change of pasturage but they generally are lost. I am sorry to say almost all my milkers are now more or less affected. I have already lost 8 or 10, but to return to my narrative, the cottage on the farm is a good one containing 6 rooms and convenient out-houses. We resided in it with Tom for a few weeks after our arrival, but he had so many visitors that I removed to a little hut on the premises for several reasons; I found the children were in the way and I did not choose to let Louisa be waiting upon and drudging for a parcel of idle fellows who do nothing but ride about pretending to look after cattle, but in point of fact killing their own time and wasting that of others. I moreover wished to make no acquaintances until I saw what sort they were. You may be sure I advised Tom not to encourage them but he had commenced before we came down keeping open house and had every facility from the credits the Newcastle tradesmen were willing to give him from his taking a place at £100 a year rent, having good clothes on his back, a gold watch in his pocket and some ready money to feel his way with and as everyone thought (even myself) from the scale he talked of carrying the placed on at a pretty large sum in the perspective. I thought Aunt Tootal might be going to help him and he told me Harriet was to send him £200. He was however forced to drop the brandy and wine and with that dropped off many friends; in fact I told him it would not do, let his expectations be what they might if he expected to get on he must begin in a prudent and economical manner. In this instance I did prevail, but it was more from necessity than love of my advice. I continued doing what I could on the place until it was time to go up for the cattle to get them down before the milking season commenced, and we all prayed Tom to remain at the station [to] get my bullocks, hire a man and commence cropping his ground as I knew well he would be of no use to me, but unfortunately his money not arriving some of the creditors became pressing he wanted to get out of the way and nothing would persuade him to remain. His horses were not fit for the journey and I told him the event was the horses knocked up halfway. We had to walk about 120 miles. I got the cattle together, at least what I could find, but a great many had been stolen and strayed during my absence. I was nearly ready for a start when Tom heard his money had arrived. A few days after he left me to get down as I could and started for Sydney. With great difficulty I obtained a man and with 4 head of horses of my own and one Tom bought while he was up, made a start (the particulars of this journey I may sometime send). We crossed upwards of 450 miles of country which occupied 6 weeks and arrived again at Trialba having been forced to leave 15 head of cattle and 2 fine breeding mares on the road. The mares dropped within 6 miles of their journey's end and never rose again. During my absence my working bullocks strayed away. I have since been [indecipherable] to me the cows commenced calving almost immediately they arrived and we were soon dairying 40 cows. The time I agreed to remain with Tom soon expired, and when talking over matters you may judge of my astonishment when I discovered he had not paid one penny of rent although he had received the money from you, and I believe, sold his rum well 3/3, I understand. I then told him I must look out for a place to remove to, as of course they would sieze my cattle for his rent if I left them on the ground. He was very much offended at this and said the parties would not trouble him, but of course it would not do for me to run the risk, so I took a little station for £10 a year but continued with him till the 12 months rent was due ( 3 months) to assist him with the dairy and until he had made what would clear the money he advanced when we came down. When the rent was due I removed myself and stock and am still on the same spot. I have now given you a very brief outline of events and my principal reason for doing so arises from my having been ignored, that Master Tom had been making me scapegoat reporting that the expenses he has incurred from bringing me down the country has been the cause of all his mishaps, and I thought he might perhaps have treated you to the same story, but I can assure you that the sum of about £12 was all he ever paid, which he more than cleared by the dairy, and as for other expenses, he could not have got anyone else to have done for him as we did to prevent his having to pay wages, and I am sure he never bought so much as a shillings worth of lollipops for the children since he came into this country, but I will give you some idea of my losses by items

Item £ s d
Expenses of my first journey 22 4 5 1/2
Expenses of my second journey 10 13 2
6 working bullocks lost cost 18 - -
About 50 head of cattle lost say 40 - -
15 head of cattle dropped on the road 10 - -
2 mares died 20 - -
TOTAL 120 17 7 1/2

Besides minor matters and having to part with my furniture and other little effects at not half what they cost. Since I came down I have lost 15 head more cattle and am likely to suffer much more from the complaint already mentioned. I shall also have to part with nearly all the remainder to keep the children's mouths full and get farming implements, working bullocks and nothing coming on, and what is worse that all I can see little chance of doing anything here to retrieve my losses; in fact I have several times lately derided myself "dropping down" as the black fellows say and my health which was much recruited during the time I kept the public house is now again very indifferent. My journey down with the cattle gave me a great shaking, exposed to cold, wet and frost and snows driving all day and having to watch half the night, sleep on damp ground in wet clothes will twist a stronger constitution. During the 6 weeks journey I only slept 11 nights in bed. Some people about here make something by salting fish and as soon as I can earn enough to buy a boat I shall try it myself not being laborious work it will suit me well. I believe I have to thank you for some little matters that came in boxes to Tom. 2 books I noticed among Toms, Guthrie’s on Disease of the Chest and one to Ricardo Bonifacio. When I mentioned the latter to Tom he told me the above was a French Gentleman a particular friend of yours. I was forced to have a little quiet laugh to myself, but wish in future any matters for me or mine, may be tied up together for we feel so great a value for anything coming from “home”, we are very tenacious of losing it. Louisa requests me to return you many thanks for the baby jumper, it certainly is the most irresistibly ludicrous thing I ever saw. I do not think I have laughed so much for 12 years as I did when first I saw it in operation. It is a most invaluable thing in a poor man’s house; it will soon God willing, have to come into operation again. You have some good reason no doubt for not having written to me and I should be very glad to know what it is. I may perhaps continue to write at intervals until I know the cause, and if I then find it to be a good and sufficient one I will [not] trouble you any more, if not I shall consider you as remiss and pass judgment accordingly. The little wife joins me in kindest remembrances to yourself and Mary, hoping all is going on prosperously in business believe as dear William,

Your affectionate brother
Rich Fennell.

I will write to mother as soon as I can, but I am at present so occupied, I cannot promise when. I suppose Tom writes regularly to give an account of himself, for unless asked I never interfere with other people’s business.

In my next I will tell you more about myself, residence, little folk & all that.

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