Free Settler or Felon
Convict and Colonial History

Probable Usefulness

Chapter 4

With thanks to the O'Connor family for the following Chapters

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 11 and O'Connor Genealogy

Uralla - Rocky River

Many exiled Irishmen became so excited, enthused and involved in High Patriotism during the celebrations in 1875 to mark the centenary of the birth of Daniel O'Connell that they restored, or added, the '0' to their name.

Uralla was gazetted a village in 1855, just three years after the area's first big gold strike. The centre of the village was the junction of the Bundarra Road with the main north-south road linking Armidale and Tamworth. The Rocky River Goldfields, the cause of the first settlement, follow a five mile stretch of the Bundarra Road till it reaches the Gwyder River at Maitland Point.

The mines burrow into the sides of the Mounts Welsh, Jones, Mutton and Beef, and into the creeks running between these mountains.

Moses and John began well with their digging, finding some good gold. Their families settled in to the new way of life, but for the two men, their involvement with their families, together with Anne's illness and subsequent death, meant that from here their ways parted. They always remembered the companionship and support of the early years and visited when they could.

Mary Connor (Murphy) and her children c. 1865
Mary Connor (Murphy) and her children c. 1865

John and Mary had their first child, Margaret Mary, born 3 June 1855. Mary had been helping Anne with the education of her boys and, when Anne became ill during 1856, the two boys stayed with John and Mary. Moses' and Anne's daughter, Mary Anne, went to work for one of the local families. John and Mary's family was further increased when Patrick Michael was born 23 Nov. 1856.

The Armidale Express of Saturday, April 18, 1857 reports:-'The diggers working at the Rocky River are earning from 2 to 4 a week. Some of the ground near Garland's late store is turning out first rate. Connor's praty, who are working a horse machine there are getting very payable stuff, the yield being from 2 to3 cwts. to the bucketfull.' 'Gold, 3 12s. per oz. for any quantity'.

'The weather is a bit more settled, but already we can snuff the chill and bracing air of approaching winter, particularly the mornings and evenings.'

'Our postal service requires some remarks, for whenever a river rises, we get no mails! Last week, for instance, Monday and Wednesday's bags arrived only on Saturday, and the newspapers were much damaged, and in instances, missing altogether. We presume that the down mails shared the same delay, and that the letters by them for Europe were too late for the `Columbian'. A highway like that to New England deserves to be in a better condition.'

John and Mary became restless through the long, cold, wet winter of 1857. The ground was slushy, slippery and boggy, so John, like so many of the miners could not make any progress. Once again the family was packed into the dray and they set off for a new mine John had heard about at Fairfield (Drake), near Tenterfield. Mary's third child, Mary Anne, was born at Tenterfield, 13 September 1858.

This was not a successful venture, John felt let down by the gold mine and his losses worried him, so they returned to Rocky River. John was only one of the many who suffered such reverses in gold speculating, but to him it was a stern lesson. He returned to his digging and sluicing at Rocky River. Now that the weather was warmer it was better. He also brought more horses and made up a good team.

With his earlier knowledge of shipping conditions at Morpeth to aid him, he now began a carrying business, taking down the wheat and wool, and any other produce, that was to be shipped from Morpeth to Sydney and thence to England and Europe. On the return trip he would bring back the much needed food supplies, clothing and building materials. The value of horse teams over bullock teams was speed, horses could travel twelve to eighteen miles per day compared to bollocks only eight to twelve miles a day. In wet years with flooded rim a and boggy flats the trip could take up to five months whereas in a dry year the trip could be accomplished in five weeks. The teamsters were usually wasted by a mate or a lad, or as in John Connor's case, by his son It is told that even at eight years of age, Patrick could walk (and ride) with his father's team from Uralla to Morpeth and back. He knew the special harness that fitted comfortably on each horse and could assist with the morn­ing harnessing and evening unharnessing every day. He even knew the special spiked shoes for each horse as they were strung on the row of nails along the side of the waggon. At Morpeth where the flats were so boggy logs had been laid in neat rows to form a path for the waggons, but these were so slippery that the horses were shod with spiked shoes to enable them to pull their loads. This meant that when the teams reached the camping grounds, each horse had to have its shoes changed to the spiked ones and then after the waggon was unloaded at the wharf and the return load on and the waggon back on firm ground, the process with the horses shoes had to be repeated, putting on the normal ones for the homeward trip. What lessons must have passed between father and son on those long, quiet times together?

By 1860 most of the Rivers between Morpeth and Uralla had been bridged or, as at Singleton and Aberdeen, a ferry provided. John was among those teamsters who tried the route to Kempsey and a deeper shipping port, but the mountains were too steep and hard for the horses. Bad and all as were the Liverpool and the Moonbi Ranges, they were preferable to the steep climb up from the coast. So they continued their method of using two teams to haul a load to the top of the Moonbi's, leaving that load there and going back for the second load.

Twenty years and more John continued these trips, leav­ing Mary to attend to the children. They had seven children though one little boy lived only eight months. She cared for them, started them on the road of learning and then sent them to the local school. When John came home from his trips, whether that trip had been quick and pleasant or beset with storms, bogs, or any of the various frustrations, Mary was always there to welcome him home and to make his life easier, at least for a while.

The Catholic Priests had just come to the area and John and Mary were happy to have their children baptised and to be able to attend Mass, even though perhaps, not as often as they would have liked. Father Timothy McCarthy took up residence in Armidale in 1853 but it took him the first three years just to ride once around his parish which extended from Singleton to Ipswich and from the Pacific Coast as far inland as he could go. In 1855 Father John Dunne arrived and it was he who baptised Margaret Mary Connor on 11 October 1855 when she was four months old, and then Patrick Michael Connor on 12 December 1856 just a few weeks after his birth.

Later Father J.T. O'Neil came to help in the parish and when Moses Henry Connor was born in 1868 it was Father J.T. Lynch who baptised him. Father Lynch had visited the area while he was still in Singleton. It was he who had organised the Catholics to build the little wooden chapel in Armidale, that Father McCarthy found on his arrival there.

A public meeting was called at Rocky River and a fund raised to erect a chapel at the diggings. On 30 August 1856 Father McCarthy stated that, 'a suitable building will be completed in about a week'. It was made of slab, lined with calico and would hold 150 children. It was to be used as a school as well as a chapel and stood mid-way between the two most populated areas, Mounts Welsh and Jones, near Mr. James Ryan's residence. A report in the 'Freeman's Journal' of 17 January 1857 stated that `Divine Service is occasionally given by Rev. T. McCarthy, but generally by Rev. J.F. Dunne.'

By 1860 the population of Rocky River was declining as the gold was becoming more difficult to get. Uralla con­tinued to grow as the centre of a large woolgrowing district. The little wooden church-school at Rocky River fell into decay through neglect and not being used when a new wooden church was built in Park Street, in Uralla. This was the Mass centre until the new brick building was erected at the northern end of Bridge Street in 1880.

Mary's time was well filled with caring for, and sewing for, the children while John was away, but the nights were long and lonely. She began the education of her children by always having her precious Bible and dictionary on the table. Every childish question was carefully answered and they were taught how to seek and find the learning that would stand by them throughout life. It is little wonder that the teacher's reports commented on their level of achievement at school, or that they were competent and confident to undertake high responsibilities as young men and women of their time. Her three sons all entered into the Public and Civic life of their areas.

Margaret Mary Connor met John Patrick Henry, a carrier like her father. They were married at Uralla on 7 January 1871 and their first child was born 21 December that same year, and named John Patrick like his father. John built a home for Margaret at the end of Hill Street, near the foot of Mount Mutton. There they raised their family of twelve children.

Mary's youngest boy, Moses Henry, was only three years old when Margaret's John Patrick was born so there was no time when Mary was not caring for or helping with a baby.

The opening of the Railway Station in Uralla in August 1882, brought mixed blessings and feelings to John Connor. The speed of the trains made a great difference to the time for travelling to and from Sydney, or any of the places along the way. It made a great difference to the time for bringing food supplies, and it considerably increased the quantity of all types of supplies that could now be brought to the town. But for John it meant that he and his horses were no longer wanted; their life's work was done. He sold his team, and, being 72 years of age, he retired to a quieter, less stressful way of life. He still did some searching for gold and some working in the garden, but mostly he let go every­thing. It was only a few short years until he died in 1887.

John Connor loved the sea and had great faith in its healing powers. In between carting trips to Morpeth, particularly during the cold New England winters, when colds and flu were prevelant, he would load the family into the buggy and go down the sea at Kempsey for a few weeks. When all were restored to good health he would bring them home and return to the daily grind of earning a living. The same if any of the children or Mary or himself, had a cut or sore that would not heal, down to the clean salt water was better than to any doctor. Only at the end of his life did the sea fail him, perhaps he left the cut too long; gangrene had set in. He spent some weeks at Kempsey but was no better on his return, then a few weeks with his youngest daughter and her family at Ben Lomond, but he returned home still not healed. Did he remember how many years he had pushed his body to the limit, working to make a good home for Mary? To rear and educate his children? They are all grown men and women now, settled in their homes and with their families. Even his beautiful horses had not been needed since the railway line had been opened in 1882. The Lord called him home, quietly and gently, Mary as always was there at his side, God Bless her.


Wednesday, April 27, 1887

OBITUARY. - We have again this week to announce the death of one of the oldest residents of this neighbourhood,

Mr. J. O'Connor, who died at his late residence on Thursday morning last. Mr. O'Connor, who had passed the proverbial three score and ten, was born in Dublin in 1810, and followed the occupation of a brewer. He landed in Australia in the year 1830 - 56 years ago - and during that time experienced many changes and saw many ups and downs. The first few years of his life in this colony were spent in and around Sydney. Being of an adventurous spirit and great physical strength, he was just the man fitted to be a pioneer. He was one of the first white men to penetrate and explore the Macleay River, and many a thrilling tale he could tell of his adventures with the wild blacks in that district, and it is known that the Macleay tribes were the most warlike of any aboriginals in the Colony, From the Macleay he came to the Hunter River and located himself at Green Hills, Morpeth, where for 17 years he remained in the employ of Captain Rapsey, of the old St. Michael storeship as wharfinger. Maitland and Morpeth were nothing more than a wild bush when he went there: but, before leaving, both places were rapidly growing, and good buildings were stand­ing in place of the ancient stringy bark buildings that were first erected on the sites now occupied by the pretty towns of Maitland and Morpeth. Here again after 17 years as wharfinger, he took a whaling voyage through the sunny Southern Ocean; on his return to Sydney, meeting with his only brother, Mr. M. O'Connor, now of Bundarra, he gave up the sea and with him settled down at Moreton Bay, or, as it is now known, Queensland; but that great epoch in Australian history, the gold discovery, sent him moving and he arrived at the Rocky River with the first rush and has lived here ever since, with one or two exceptions - for a short time in the neighbourhood of Tenterfield, and for a while in Fairfield, where he lost a lot of money, speculating in mining. For 35 years Mr. O'Connor has lived in this neighbourhood; he has watched it grow from a wild bush to what it is now, and we do not suppose that there are many older inhabitants in this part left behind him. He leaves a widow, 3 sons, 3 daughters, 17 grandchildren, 1 brother, Mr. M. O'Connor, and a sister, Mrs. Bermingham, of Chester, England. Those who knew Mr. O'Connor some few years back relate many prodigious feats of strength that he has performed. The cause of his death was a general break up of the constitution. He was buried on Friday at Uralla and was followed to his last resting-place by a large number of old friends. The Rev. Dean O'Connor officiated at the grave.

When Patrick Francis Moran came to Australia as Arch­bishop of Sydney, in March, 1884 it was natural that Mary Connor (Murphy) should write to him, as to an old school friend, and welcome him to the country that had given her a new start in life, security and opportunities for her children and peace and contentment for herself. It was natural, too that when he came to Armidale for the Episcopal Consecration of Rev. Patrick Joseph O'Connor as Bishop of Armidale on 4 March 1903, that he would stop in Uralla and pay a visit to Mary.


Wednesday, August 18 1909

One of our Pioneers. On Monday last, August 16, Mrs. O'Connor, sen., of Leighlin Cottage, Uralla, celebrated her 80th birthday and was the recipient of many kindly greetings and presents from friends and relatives. Except for a troublesome partial deafness, the worthy old lady is in possession of all her faculties, and her recollections of the early days of the district (of which she has been a resident for 55 years) are wonderfully clear, and particularly entertaining when exercised in connection with the history of the early days of the old Rocky goldfield. She has reared a family of three sons and three daughters, all worthy citizens, who had the pleasure of meeting together to greet her on her birthday. Her other descendants comprise 41 grandchildren and 26 great-grandchildren - all New Englanders - so that in wishing our brave old pioneer many happy returns of the day, the News ranges itself upon the side of quite a big section of the community.

 Mary O'Connor's treasured statue of Our Lady
Mary O’Connor’s treasured statue of Our Lady

In a corner of the living room in her little weatherboard cottage Mary O'Connor had set up her treasures, the statue of Our Lady on top of the three boxes-cum-cupboard with a tidy curtain hanging in front. Inside she had her shroud all ready as was the custom of the time, and on the lower shelf her treasured Bible and her dictionary, both now worn and well used. On the wall above hung the two pictures, the Sacred Heart and Our Lady of Sorrows. Many were the times when this 'Prayer Corner' was the source of comfort and strength for Mary as she raised and trained her children and cared for her husband and came to the aid of her many neighbors and friends. When one day, by a sad accident, fire burnt through the cottage destroying Mary's home and clothing, this one corner was saved.

The statue is still loved and cared for in Rita Dawson's home in Hill Street, Uralla, which is built on the same place as Mary O'Connor's little 'Leighlin Cottage' used to be.


Wednesday, May 28, 1914

Death of Mrs. O'Connor

On Monday, the 25th, at 2 p.m. there passed away another of our brave old pioneers in the person of Mrs. O'Connor, of Hill Street, Uralla, at the ripe age of 85 years. A native of County Carlow, Ireland, she, accompanied by a younger sister, ventured upon the long and arduous voyage to Australia per sailing ship 61 years ago. After a year spent in Queensland she married her late husband (who pre­deceased her by about 27 years) and came from Ipswich per horse team overland to the then famous Rocky River diggings where, save for a short interval spent at Tenterfield, she has lived ever since and reared a family of three sons and three daughters, all of whom were assembled at her deathbed. Although grown very feeble she only took to her bed about 12 days ago, since when she gradually sank and died as stated, passing away as peacefully as an infant falling asleep. She leaves 91 descendants, viz., 6 children, 42 grandchildren, and 43 great grandchildren. A worthy and patriotic woman she never, since the granting of womanhood suffrage, failed to record her vote, and it was a source of honest pride to her to know that her children inherited her public spirit; two sons, viz., Messrs. P.M. and J.F. O'Connor and a grandson, Mr. J.P. Henry, being each in turn Mayor of their native town, Uralla. The first named was also first President of the Gostwyck Shire Council and J.F. O'Connor is the present Mayor of Inverell, and the youngest son, Mr. M.H. O'Connor, is an ex-Mayor of Hillgrove. Truly, an honorable record; may she rest in peace!

Four Generations Connor Family
Four Generations

Back:- Eileen, Kathleen, Una O'Connor, Maud Henry, May Nixon, Agnes Wall. Each daughter standing behind her parent. Centre:- Moses Henry, John Francis, Patrick Michael, Mary Mother, Margaret, Mary Anne and Ellen O'Connor.

The funeral took place on Tuesday, a large number of relatives and friends following the remains to their last resting place. A service was conducted at St. Joseph's Church by Rev. Father McGrath, and afterwards at the old cemetery, where the interment took place.

The late Mrs. O'Connor's daughters are Mrs. J.P. Henry Snr., Mrs. Nixon and Mrs. Wall

Chapter 11 O'Connor Genealogy

Contact Peter O'Connor for more O'Connor family details