Three trees

Posted by on Apr 1, 2014 | 0 comments

Tears in my Eyes – # 1 a series of genealogical reality experiences

The town of Gosforth sits 13 km north northwest of Maitland, inside Gosforth area an encompassing U loop formation of the volatile Hunter River.  These days the area is comprised mainly of grazing land bordered by sand and gravel quarries.  But up until the middle of the twentieth century it was a vibrant farming community where vineyards, orchards and dairy cattle flourished.  First identified and named in 1801 it was 1833 before the Crown leased and sold 40 hectare lots, even though settlement had begun way back in 1812.   The richest tracts of land where giant cedars, eucalypts, casuarinas, ash, and teatree lined the river banks were to the east, ranging in size from 400 to 800 hectares.  The Anambah estate was subdivided later and a portion designated as Church and School land.   The historic Anambah house still stands to the south.

In 1848 The Board of National Education came into existence and established the first 11 ‘State’ schools as alternatives to ‘Church’ schools. In April 1850 the residents of Gosforth, Anambah, and Hillsborough applied to have a National School erected at Gosforth, approval forthcoming by August. The first two teachers did not stay long, deploring the conditions of the schoolhouse and residence, but in 1852, Joseph Taylor, with his wife Emma and two daughters and son, arrived after a National School assignment in Camden.  The Gosforth school was endowed with 35 pupils at the time, who lived not only in the town of Gosforth but also on farms across the Hunter – in Hillsborough to the Northwest and Rosebrook to the Northeast.School Residence Gosforth

The school land occupied just under a hectare and stretched to the river bank.  A Department of Lands cadastral shows lot 78 was reached from the village commons down Tierney’s lane of 225 meters.  One of the most peculiar aspects of the school (and unique amongst all National schools) was that it owned a rowboat which the teacher used to ferry children from one side of the river to the other.

The school was abandoned every time the Hunter River flooded.   Fortunately Joseph arrived a year after a terrible flood in July 1851, and left before the next one in November 1856.  Even so, teaching at Gosforth was a challenge with poor facilities, rising waters, and the fetching of children.  At first Joseph was an enthusiastic teacher, well supported by Emma who related well to the girl pupils. In 1853 enrollment had increased to 41 and Joseph was paid 50 pounds.  A year later enrollment had sky-rocketed to 123 and Joseph’s salary was 120 pounds.

It was a lot of work for one man to teach that many students. The settlers ofCadastral the vicinity had fixed the school fees so low that the people’s contribution towards Joseph’s support was about a third of a labourer’s daily wage. Joseph started to lose self-respect, and motivation for the other leadership qualities that should have rendered his services valuable diminished.  A visit by inspector William Wilkins found Joseph apathetic, unable to have enthusiasm re-kindled even with a scolding, to any level beyond ‘a quiet acquiescence.’

Years later when Joseph taught at Seaham he set up a Men’s Mutual Improvement Society and became a prominent citizen in the town.  His intellectual capabilities were pronounced. Gosforth however was a challenge to all teachers.

The school continued through good and hard times, with its story being one of poor living conditions and bureaucratic procrastination.  Among the most memorable recorded positive events however was the planting of six trees commemorating Arbor Day in April 1891.  A flood in 1893 caused a replanting, but over the years a Blue Gum, Silky Oak and Kurrajong survived and thrived.   Finally in 1940 the school was closed for good.  The building was let as accommodation but after the disastrous flood of 1955 it was torn down, and rebuilt as a private residence in Telarah, a suburb of Maitland.

So why this interest in Gosforth?  Paul Taylor, born there, happens to be my great grandfather.  Joseph and Emma arrived in Sydney in December 1845, meeting up with Joseph’s elder sister Eliza, and his mother Charlotte, who had migrated 11 years earlier.  In the intervening years, Joseph had been groomed as successor to his uncle Henry Beaufoy in the burgeoning family-owned distillery and wine business back in Lambeth, London. Joseph’s heart wasn’t in the business world however. The stifling environment of crime-ridden London, the apparent opportunities in the Antipodes, and the gravitational pull of family so far away, all combined to help him decide at age 23 to join his relatives. The charming Welsh song mistress he’d fallen in love with was happy to join him in the adventure.

Eliza’s husband Edward had helped secure a flat for Joseph and Emma in Swan St. now subsumed by the QVB.  Joseph found part-time book-keeping work at a warehouse down by the wharves but had applied for a teaching position with the Anglican Church.  His daughter Annie was born at the end of March 1846, carrying as middle name, Plunkett, after a favored Taylor children’s Irish governess. It took three years before an appropriate teaching position for Joseph opened up in Narellan 65 km south southwest of Sydney – out ‘in the bush’.  For a city born and bred man this was a mammoth change, and for many years Joseph’s restlessness had him moving from town to town with new teaching assignments.

In 2009 I made a pilgrimage from the USA to my homeland to trace as many of my ancestors as I could.   In a wonderful memoir book titled “Hard Work Won’t Hurt You” by Pat Barden and Nell Pyle, my schoolboy friend Ian Cooksey of Newcastle had found that the location of the school at Gosforth was marked by two fence posts and three trees planted on Arbor Day many years before

The road from Maitland to Gosforth runs through small Gosforth 10 Lane and gateposts
rolling hills with a few ponds and many lazing kangaroos, but is spectacularly devoid of other habitation.  Even in the town itself there are very few local residences.  We explored a number of dead-end roads, unsure of our location, with ups and down in our guesswork, frustrated at lack of definition in the land.  Finally we pulled up at a gate between two old fence posts and decided to walk towards the river up the long low hill in front of us.

The grass was incredibly long, concealing an uneven surface designed to trip unwary trespassers. 100 metres in we started to crest the hill and as we advanced, those three giant trees emerged in the distance.

I stopped.  I was walking down the lane along a fence line where hundreds of students had walked to school over 150 years before.  To my great great grandfather’s school no less.  He’d also walked in this lane. His wife and children had walked in this lane.  His home had been here, my great grandfather born here.

One of the Arbor Day trees had died, but it didn’t stop the tears pouring down my cheeks. In my mind’s eye I imagined the residence and the schoolhouse.  I saw the teacher, Joseph Taylor, lean out the schoolhouse door and wave welcome to his charges bounding down the hill around me.  I was one of them, come to learn, to grow and contribute in the country around. I stayed mesmerized on the spot, hearing the bell marking the start of the day. I saw the boat tethered to a tree on the bank of the river, and when I listened on the breeze I heard the children reciting rhymes.

Blue Gum Eucalypt, Silky Oak, Kurrajong at Gosforth School - sub

The memories of course will linger many years into the future.  For no longer are Joseph and Emma and Paul just names in the family tree.

I’ve trodden literally in their very footsteps.

Their reality echoes in my soul.

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