Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Reverend Ridley Makes a Tour


Herewith a tale of the adventures of the intrepid traveller William Ridley.

In early colonial Queensland, travel journals were a common feature of newspaper columns.  These articles were the travel guides of the day, providing information on road conditions, accommodation, local characters, and highlights of the landscape and fauna and flora.

Rev. Ridley

William Ridley (1819-1878) was an English-born Presbyterian minister who was recruited by the Reverend Dr. J. D. Lang. He arrived at Sydney in 1850. In the colonies he attempted to set up an Anglican Aboriginal institution which ultimately failed. In 1857 he travelled to Moreton Bay to assist his mentor Dr. Lang with his efforts to create a separate colony of Queensland by separation from New South Wales.

Armed with the petition for separation, Ridley’s journey did not start well.  He managed to lose two horses in as many days.[1]

Early sketch of Kangaroo Point Brisbane 1860s

8th-Set out early from Kangaroo Point for Ipswich, on a mare belonging, with the equipment, to the Rev. Dr. Lang, and left by him with his usual patriotic readiness to do or sacrifice anything in his power for the advancement of Australia.

9th.-I left Ipswich early, and rode by way of Flinder's Peak Station to Dugandan on the Teviot, one of the heads of the Logan.  

Early view of Dugandan
The mare, whether from being unused to work in the heat of a Moreton Bay summer, or some other cause, seemed through the day unaccountably languid. At the Peak Station, where I remained three hours during the hottest part of the day, she swam four times across a deep waterhole; and when, turned out at night in the paddock at Dugandan, lay down and died.

Putting the mare’s demise down to its lack of use in the summer heat, Ridley was loaned a replacement horse by the station owner. So mounted, the intrepid Reverend pressed onwards with his quest accompanied by an aboriginal man who would as a guide to the next station.

Here in his journal he unashamedly boasts of the reach of his missionary endeavours, noting that Jemmy has already heard of his work and has a basic grasp of Christian cosmology.

I found Jemmy Murphy remarkably well informed for an aboriginal. He had been taught and remembered correctly several elementary facts concerning the origin of the human race, and concerning the Creator and Ruler of all mankind. Though he had never seen me before he had heard of my endeavours to instruct his fellow-country men, and said he wished he lived near me that he might learn more. 

View of the Logan River
Reaching Meroon, the crusading reverend Ridley promptly borrowed yet another horse and sets off following the Logan River to call on a squatter he has been informed to a supporter of Separation.  Unfortunately the weather gods soon intervened.

Night came on before, I could reach the station I was in search of; and just as daylight was vanishing a heavy thunder shower fell. Unable to keep the track by the fitful lightning flashes, I was glad to take refuge for an hour in a hut occupied by three Chinamen[2], which I reached before the worst of the shower came.

Leaving the hospitable shepherds, the adventurous clergyman rode off into the night.

Afterwards "by the struggling moonbeams misty light"[3] I went on for a mile or two; but after sliding down into a deep gully, across which my path seemed to lie, I found it impossible to lead the horse up out of it, so slippery were the banks with the rain. After many vain attempts, I fastened him by the bridle to a tree, and, sticking my hands in the mud, climbed up the bank and walked on for the station hoping to get a rope there to pull out the horse it was further then I expected, six full miles, and to a lonely and weary walker in a wet night every mile seemed very long.

Horseless once more, Ridley eventually approached his destination but was forced to seek refuge from the farm dogs by climbing a tree.  Two farmhands finally rescue him and fetch the station owner who is totally unfazed by the arrival of a sodden man of God in the middle of the night.

About midnight I came in sight of the buildings; and thinking it likely that at such an hour I might have rather a longer parley with the watch-dogs than would be at all pleasant, before I could awaken the hospitable inmates of the station. I climbed into a tree and "cowered" until with the help of the vigilant canine sentinels, I brought out two men from their sound repose. They soon awoke their master Mr. Haly, who without any remark on the unseasonable hour at which I had disturbed him, accommodated me with all the comforts a wet and weary traveller could desire.

At dawn, Ridley and a farmhand return to the fateful gully to find the borrowed horse has freed itself and bolted.  They decide not to search presuming that the horse will find its way home.

Having submitted the petition to the consideration of the gentleman I was in search of and preached at the station, where I had met such a welcome reception after my long midnight ramble, I returned up the river to Meroon; and thence to a cattle station on the same run; where at last, on Friday evening (12th), I found the horse lost on Wednesday night. Mr. Preiss, the overseer, entertained me not only with the usual hospitable cheer of the bush but with intellectual refreshment.  

Cedar Getters, New South Wales

Travelling south into what is now the Northern Rivers Districts, the Reverend find little support for his petition for separation of a new colony north of the 22nd parallel, the line of latitude that passes near the town of Grafton.

On first presenting the petition for Separation I met with a good deal of indifference and opposition, and I was assured that the people living lower down the river, being chiefly occupied in the cedar trade, were to a man opposed to Separation, because they considered it would destroy their business with Sydney, the chief and almost the only market for their timber.

View of the Richmond River on a lantern slide

Reaching the town of Casino, Ridley obtains another horse, this time actually purchasing it.  Perhaps his reputation with borrowed horses preceded him. Continuing his tour, he boats down the Richmond River, bewitched by the exotic riverbanks.

The scenery on both sides of the Richmond is truly enchanting. Close to the water's edge rises a complete wall of luxuriant foliage: fig-trees, bean trees, pines, and a variety of other trees, stand thickly set and overhung with rich drapery creepers, presenting the forms of turrets, buttresses, festoons, and stalactites, in endless variety, and bespangled with flowers and fruit. There is a purple convolvulus, wild roses, tulips, and some yellow flowers scattered high and low; and close to the water's edge a pure white lily. Cherries, figs and mulberries overhang the water.

Caught in yet another stormy downpour, Ridley’s travelling party take refuge with a local shopkeeper.

Mr. Thomas Barker, storekeeper, whose house we reached just as he was going to rest, had suffered almost as much as we had by the storm; for the cedar boards comprising the roof of his house had been so warped by the sun that the rain which came with quite unusual force was driven into all his rooms, and he could scarcely find a dry place for himself and his family. But seeing strangers come in drenched from a boat, he re-kindled his kitchen fire, treated us to a hot supper, and while we were recruiting our strength and spirits, provided comfortable bedding for us. 

While making his way to Grafton, Ridley unexpectedly meets two veterans of the 1848 revolutions in Europe. Many of these so-called “48ers” fled Europe after the revolts failed.  Most settled in the United States.  Ridley record of their meeting reveals his decidedly anti-monarchist sentiments.

The interest of my tour hitherto has been not a little enhanced by meeting on the Logan and Richmond two of the patriot heroes of Europe, who in 1848 shared the struggle and the triumphs of freedom, and in '49 witnessed with unavailing sorrow the reaction of despotism; one of them, a Magyar, having been an officer in the army of Hungary, and entrusted with an important mission by his chief; the other, a Hollander, having been elected by the Germans in Switzerland as their representative in the Parliament of Frankfort, where some of the noblest men in Europe made a gallant but unsuccessful attempt to establish the unity and independence of Germany. 

Great is the honour conferred on Britain and her colonies that such men enjoy among us that safety and liberty which are elsewhere denied them.

His tour ended in Grafton.  Here he found little support for his petition. Trade was too well established with Sydney for the locals to risk the changes that separation might bring.

27th,-Reached the Clarence river at Grafton. The question of Separation has been earnestly discussed here, and almost everyone is so pledged for or against it, that little remains to be done in getting signatures.

As the weather closes in again, Ridley opts to return to Sydney.

Jan. 2. Rain having fallen in abundance every one of the five days, l remained in Grafton, the river was rising, and there was no prospect of being able to travel, as I had intended, round by the head of the Clarence to Moreton Bay within a reasonable time. I resolved on returning by the steamer "Grafton" this day.  After a speedy trip we reached Sydney on Saturday evening, 3rd January.

The S.S. Grafton

Separation of the Colony of Queensland was eventually achieved in 1859 but the Northern Rivers District remained in New South Wales.

The Reverend William Ridley had a long career as a Presbyterian Minister until his death in 1875.  He was also a journalist and a prolific writer, and in 1866 published a study of Aboriginal languages.[4] His journals were published posthumously in 1892.[5]

Ministers of the Presbyterian church of Eastern Australia, 1862

© K. C. Sbeghen, 2011.

[1] All extracts are sourced from The Moreton Bay Courier 24.1.1857
[2] Probably shepherds
[3] From the popular poem “The Burial of Sir John Moore after Corunna” by Charles Wolfe, 1791-1823:
We buried him darkly at dead of night,
The sods with our bayonets turning,
By the struggling moonbeam's misty light
And the lanthorn dimly burning.

[4] Kamilaroi, Dippil, and Turrubul: Languages Spoken by Australian Aborigines (Sydney, 1866).
[5] Australian Dictionary of Biography.

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