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They Called It B’Pooty – Chapters 1-9

About the Author  – Margaret Ferguson

 I have lived in Putty, firstly as a weekender and now full time for nearly forty years.  Over these years I have located and saved many items of interest which relate to the early history of Putty.  I have discovered documents in the Government archives and Gazettes, the R.A.H.S journals. Copies of newspaper advertisements and articles included in the National Library of Australia website “Trove” have provided me with a wealth of information.  As well as these sites, I have sourced information from “” and webpages.

What else to do with all the scraps of paper I have but to put the information they contain all together in one place.   What follows is information I have discovered about the people and the development of Putty during its first one hundred years.  My story may not be entirely factual or correct but it is the closest to which I could arrive. 

I recognise and pay respect to the Aboriginals who roamed the district well before white man arrived, in particular, the Wonnarua people, the clan which claimed Putty.  

I dedicate my story to the pioneer settlers in Putty who were here long before me and are now long gone. 

veni, vidi, vici.   Julius Caesar –  BC47


Margaret Ferguson © 2016    

It was the early 1800’s and Lachlan Macquarie was Governor of NSW.  The Hawkesbury and the Hunter River had both been discovered and were being used for shipping cargo to inland destinations but an overland route between the two ports was urgently required.  It was known that bushranging convicts were regularly moving cattle stolen from the Windsor district to a ready market north and that there was a track through to the Hunter River area already established by them. With the convicts not giving up any clues to the whereabouts of this track, Macquarie was given the job of finding it and tidying it up to establish the route from Windsor to the Hunter Valley.

In October 1817, the first Government sponsored expedition left Windsor to find a suitable way through.  Mr. William Parr led the expedition and was accompanied by Mr. Benjamin Singleton and Mr. Simms Bell.  On 12th November, 1817, the party reached an area known by First Nations people as “B’pooty.  But things were not going well for the expedition party.  Because of a bit of a difference of opinion, and the fires lit to scare the explorers away, the expedition was abandoned and they all returned to Windsor. In April 1818, Benjamin Singleton regrouped with a new team and successfully reached the Hunter River giving his name to the township on his way through.

Governor Macquarie was not happy.  He just didn’t want the area explored, he wanted it explored AND surveyed.  So he gave the job to the Chief Constable at Windsor, Mr. John Howe.  Howe, with six other men set out on the 24th October 1819 and on the sixth day out, after travelling through rough and mountainous country, descended into the “Puttee” valley. Howe described Puttee “as a good and extensive valley with many branches and plenty of good food.  It has a large creek running through it interspersed with large ponds and lagoons.  In my opinion an excellent place for cattle in a dry season but not good in a wet one.”  Howe and his team reached the Hunter on the eleventh day and returned to Windsor another eleven days later. He presented Governor Macquarie with his written report and field book, distances and bearings calculated by using his pocket compass and watch.  He also put in a bill for 76 pounds, 14 shillings and 6 pence for expenses.

With a view to develop the “new territory”, Governor Macquarie set about promising land to those he thought would get the place up and running. The favoured gentry included a Mrs. Hannah Laycock. Hannah’s husband had died in 1809 but she remained independently highly regarded with the means to support herself and her family, both unusual for a woman of that time. 

She and her daughters Rebecca and Elizabeth, all residing at Botany Bay, were each promised 100 acres with the orders dated 31st October, 1813.  Her son Samuel, residing in Liverpool, was also promised 100 acres. Previous to these orders was a promise of 500 acres, made in June 1811 to her son William, who resided at Georges River. Mrs. Laycock already owned property granted to her by the previous Governor, Philip Gidley King. She named it King’s Grove farm in honour of him with that area in Sydney still bearing that name today.

Strangely when the grants were made, they were not for a particular parcel of land and the question remains unanswered as to why, Mrs. Laycock decided on — “100 acres, at Putty, near the Bulga Road”.   

In June 1820, Hannah had her solicitor write to Governor Macquarie, asking for additional land to be added to the allotment she was first promised but had not yet received.  A reply stated that “his Excellency regrets that he cannot comply with your request he being recently received instructions on-joined not to make grants to females.”  

A reply stated that “his Excellency regrets that he cannot comply with your request he being recently received instructions on-joined not to make grants to females.”This must have been disappointing for her, but she went ahead with her plans and in about 1824 took possession but not ownership of the 100 acres at Putty and with help from her son Samuel and his nephew Thomas William Eber Bunker Laycock, along with two convicts, improved the property, adding a cottage, stables, sheds, a horse mill and fences.                                                                                                   

It was July 1826 and Hannah Laycock wrote to Governor Ralph Darling, Governor of NSW from 1825 to 1831 requesting permission to rent a further 1000 acres at Putty. In October the same year she lodged an application to purchase the same land stating that her cattle had been ‘depasturing’ the area and that she was already in possession of 100 acres, 20 of which were cleared.  She also stated that she had 5000 pounds sterling to her credit. The application must have been unsuccessful as in July 1828 she applied again to rent it with a view to purchase. 

Hannah Laycock and her husband Thomas had six children. Sarah, William, Thomas Jnr., Samuel, Rebecca and Elizabeth.  Hannah died in 1831 and the 100 acres promised and taken up at Putty then allegedly ‘devised’ to Samuel.  But Samuel died the following year.  

Hannah’s son Thomas Jnr. joined the NSW Corps in 1795 and as a soldier, served in Sydney and on Norfolk Island.  In 1806 he was sent to Port Dalrymple in the north of Tasmania.  He and his party were the first to traverse the island, north to south. The aim of the expedition was to obtain relief for the famine stricken northern settlement.  However, on reaching Hobart Town, it was found that the south of Tasmania was equally short of food.  

He returned to Sydney and in 1809 married Isabella Bunker, the daughter of Captain Eber Bunker, a man considered to be the father of Australian Whaling.  With the NSW Corps, the couple returned to England the following year and Thomas was promoted to Captain in the 98th Regiment, serving with that rank in the American War.

While Thomas was stationed in Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1815, their son, who they named Thomas William Eber Bunker Laycock, was born.  Thomas and Isabella with their daughter  Margaretta and baby Thomas returned to Sydney in 1817 but two months later, Isabella died in childbirth.  Thomas Jnr. was later re-married to Margaret Connell, daughter of John Connell, a merchant.  Thomas and Margaret became parents to two more children and the family of six lived on Thomas’ estate at Bringelly.  There he set up a store, opened a hotel and soon became a large supplier of meat to the commissariat.  He was also one of the leading citizens applying for trial by jury in the colony.  Sadly Thomas died on his estate in 1823 at the age of 37 years.

Thomas W.E.B. was only eight years old when his father died. By 1824 he had arrived at Putty Farm, living and working on the property with his Uncle Samuel. When Samuel died, this left Thomas W.E.B, at the age of seventeen years, responsible for running the farm.  In 1833, very soon after assuming the role of caretaker of the property, he made application for the land to be surveyed.

Thomas W.E.B. Laycock married his cousin Mary Matcham Pitt in 1835.  Mary was the daughter of his Aunt Elizabeth who had married Thomas Matcham Pitt.  While Thomas W.E.B. and Mary were residing in Richmond, their children Thomas, Elizabeth, Robert, Henry and Andrew were born.

Thomas W.E.B and Mary set up residence on the Putty farm in 1845 where four more children, Isabella, Emily Jane, Mary and George made their family complete.  After Hannah, these nine brothers and sisters were the third generation of Laycocks in Putty.



COURT of Claims Office, March 17 -Notice is hereby given, that the following Claims for Deeds of Grant of Land and Town Allotments will be ready for the examination of the Commissioners at the expiration of two months from this date, before which day any caveat or counter claim must be entered at this office. Due notice will be given of the days appointed for the hearings: –

 1236. Thomas William Eber Bunker Laycock, of Putty on the Bulga, by his solicitor, Francis Baddek, Esq , 100 acres, County of Hunter, at Putty, near the Bulga Road. This land was located on an order of Governor Macquarie, dated 30th October, 1813, in favour of Hannah Laycock, deceased, who, it is alleged, devised to Samuel Laycock, deceased, with remainder to applicant.


His claim was granted and the property transferred into his name on 30th July, 1845. Finally, after more than thirty years, the original 100 acre grant actually belonged to a member of the Laycock family.                    

Even though Thomas W.E.B had requested the land be surveyed in 1833, it was some years before this happened. On an old survey plan dated 6thJanuary 1860, showing the parishes of Gullongulong and Tollagong, is written “twenty one portions of land at Tupa or Putty Creek, County of Hunter applied for to purchase by Mr. Thomas Laycock and for the Crown”.

On 1st October, 1860, a sale was held at St. Albans for Country lots 2 to 22. Thomas W.E.B.’s sons, Thomas, Robert, Henry, Andrew and George bought between them, thirteen of these lots with the remaining eight not bid for. The Crown began advertising additional land for sale at Putty in 1861 and further purchases were made by the Laycock men in that year and also in 1876 and 1877.  Thomas W.E.B. did not buy any other land in Putty, possessing only his original 100 acre grant. This may have been because he was absent from Putty, on and off, for a number of years. It is rumored that he spent a considerable amount of time seeking his fortune on the Gulgong-Mudgee goldfields but no evidence of this or his success can be found.

His final return to Putty was in about 1879. On arriving back, he found that his wife Mary and his son Robert had both died while he was away, Mary from a heart attack at age sixty three and Robert as a result of falling from a horse near a Wollemi bridge at age twenty five.

On Monday 15th July (1878), the day that Mary Laycock died, a neighbour reported her death to Wollombi police late in the afternoon, stating that Mary had dropped dead on that day. The coroner, accompanied by Senior Constable Forrest, started out early the next morning for Putty. Owing to the very long distance, fifty miles, they did not arrive in time for the coroner to hold an enquiry until the next day, the 17th. After hearing evidence from Mary’s acquaintances, he returned a verdict of death from disease of the heart.

 The writer of the newspaper report also stated that he was informed as follows: –

 “This Putty is not only a considerable distance from Wollombi, but is a most wretched mountainous and rocky road to travel, and wearisome to both man and beast: and that the coroner found himself greatly fatigued with this long distance he was compelled to travel in the interest of the law and the public.”

 It is hard to imagine, all day to cover fifty miles!  The article does not state the coroner’s mode of transport. Whether on foot, on horseback or by horse and cart it was not an easy trip. Such were the lonely, difficult and isolated conditions under which the brave pioneers at Putty lived and the trips that visitors had to endure

 It is apparent from another newspaper article, that at some time and possibly while Thomas W.E.B was absent from Putty, the title to his 100 acres was transferred to his son Thomas. The details in the following notice might indicate this but definitely indicates that the property was subject to mortgage with the debt outstanding.


 Friday April 19th 1867


 John B. Laverack has received instructions from Mr. James Rochester to sell by public auction, on Saturday, April 20th, at 2 o’clock, at Mr. W. N. Blanchards Hotel, Windsor, All that parcel of land, containing 100 acres, more or less, situate at Putty, on the Bulga Road, now in the occupation of Mr. Thomas Laycock.  A large cottage, stables, sheds, horse mill, etc, erected on the land, a great portion of which is cleared and under cultivation, all securely fenced. There is abundance of water in the driest season, and, in fact, every convenience to make the property a desirable homestead.


Convict stone work on the Old Bulga Road near Putty

So it had come to this, after forty three years of Laycock occupation, the property which Hannah Laycock and her son Samuel fought for, the same to which her grandson Thomas William Eber Bunker and his Uncle Samuel made improvements, the property Thomas W.E.B. successfully negotiated to buy and had surveyed, the one where he and his wife Mary raised their family, is now going to be auctioned off!                                                                             

From all of Thomas W.E.B and Mary’s sons, only Andrew and George married. Daughters Isabella Eliza and Mary Matcham married James Gillespie and James Timmins respectively.  They and their families moved on from Putty.  

Andrew married (Mary) Jane Thorley in 1884. Jane was the daughter of James Thorley from the Mount Thorley Homestead.   Andrew and Jane were not blessed with children.

It appears that Andrew Laycock bought Thomas W.E.B’s original 100 acres. But he might have over-extended himself in doing so.  A notice in the NSW Government Gazette dated September-October 1896 lists eight properties as being owned by him at that date, including the 100 acre parcel.  The listed land was subject to mortgages from Andrew Laycock to E.P. and H.H. Capper. They were to be sold by public auction at Singleton Court House to secure the sum of one thousand, seven hundred pounds, ($3400).  It is possible that Laycock satisfied the debt before the auction.  Parish maps dated after this time indicate that he retained ownership of a number of parcels including the 100 acre property.  

E.P. and H.H. Capper were the largest merchants known to exist in NSW outside of Sydney Town.  Their stores were located in several streets of Singleton, one of their buildings being four stories high. In 1903, they opened a second business in Maitland and between the two towns, sold everything imaginable.  Building materials, fencing, agricultural supplies, furniture, guns and ammunition, linen, china and so the list goes on. Their business would have been fierce competition for Bunnings or even Costco if they had existed at that time.  Given the action for debt recovery from Andrew Laycock, the company may also have been in the business of property mortgages.  When looking at historical parish maps of the Putty district, the names E.P. & H.H. Capper is evident on several parcels of land.   Question is, did they buy the land or gain it through defaulted mortgage conditions. 

Andrew was very involved in the political scene and the Patrick Plains Shire Council. He had befriended a Mr. R.Stevenson, a Member of Parliament for Northumberland.  While on tour through his electorate, Stevenson called in to visit Laycock at his home in Putty.   Leaving Wollombi in the morning of Sunday 14th May 1899, and riding on horseback, he arrived outside Andrew Laycock’s home where he dismounted from his horse, removed the saddle and almost immediately expired.  

Mr. Stevenson was a pronounced protectionist, and a particularly good “roads and bridges” member. He was a strong opponent of the Secret Conference Bill, and was proud to place himself among the ranks of the anti-billites. It was for the purpose of warning his constituents against the iniquitous provisions of the bill that he recently went up to his electorate to, in his own words, “tear it to pieces.” He was opposed to the bill before, and he considered it now worse than ever. 

(extract The Australian, Windsor, Richmond, and Hawkesbury Advertiser. Thursday, May 18, 1899.  Death of Mr. R. Stevenson, M.P.)

Andrew Laycock was so taken by this man’s beliefs that he had a memorial stone laid in his honour outside his home.  This stone still remains in the ground today.

This plaque, placed in memory of Mr Stevenson MP, is situated near Turnbull Creek at Putty.
A house was located close by at the time of his death in 1899 

May Elizabeth Farlow was born in 1865.  She was the Granddaughter of Thomas W.E.B and Mary Laycock and daughter of Elizabeth, married to James Farlow, a descendant of Robert Farlow from Boggy Swamp. 

In 1876, Thomas and Mary’s daughter Emily Jane, married Oliver Cobcroft from Peel River. They became the parents of eight children, one not surviving infancy.  Their children were Mary, (William) Robert , Clara, Austin, Madeline, Wilfred and Colin. Madeline died from mushroom poisoning (reportedly) as a small child.

George Laycock married Oliver’s sister Ada Emily in 1882.  The Laycock family name continued in Putty with the birth of their ten children. They named their children Lillith and Lily, (twins), Kenneth, Garnet, Stanley, Cardinal, Mabel, Reginald and Alma. Another baby, a twin to Kenneth did not survive and sadly Mabel died at the age of four as a result of burns. 

As well as having eight children of their own to care for, May Elizabeth Farlow came to Putty to live with and be raised by her Uncle George and Aunt Ada. 

The pioneers of Putty raised pigs, cattle, horses and turkeys and were able to support themselves and their families by marketing this stock. Some people found work as drovers or general hands on neighbouring properties while others sought work outside the valley.  The dairy industry flourished and during a good season, cows were milked twice a day.  Milk needed for household use was taken to the kitchen each morning and the bulk of the milk was put through a milk separator, situated in a cool part of the dairy.  The extracted cream was carted to butter factories in Singleton and the left-over skimmed milk was fed to pigs, poddy calves, household pets and anything else that might like it.   Families grew fruit trees and crops such as wheat, corn, maize and sorghum for animal feed and domestic use. The ladies of the household made butter, porridges, bread and cakes and also preserved fruit for later use. When a beast was killed, they would cure pork for bacon and ham or pickle some pork or beef to make corned meat. 

Henry, George, Thomas and Robert Laycock were all regarded as great cattle men and Robert was renowned for the quality of his stallion horses. Thomas was recognised for the quality of the pigs he raised.  Getting them to market took him a while as he would ‘drive’ them there but not by truck; the pigs would trot all the way.  He was also a horse fancier and owned some well-bred mares. Many Sydney men would seek him out to supply them with good stock.    

Andrew Laycock pursued a different interest as a very notable breeder of stud Hereford cattle emphasised by the name of his property, “Hereford Hill”.  He regularly purchased stud bulls from England, the last acquisition being in 1907, not long before his death following a stroke.  Young bulls from his herd were in high demand and he often sold them to a breeder of Hereford cattle in Queensland. One sale of fifty young bulls brought him an average price of nine guineas. (This would equate to about two weeks wages in today’s money.)

Andrew was well recognised at the Royal Easter Show where his bulls won several major prizes. 

One of his biggest dislikes was dairy cattle.  He would not allow them to be agisted on his property, considering them vermin. (extract Singleton Argus 28 April 1906).  Possibly his biggest worry was that a bull from the local dairy herds might stray onto his land and his purebred Hereford cows might just not produce a Hereford calf! 

During his trips to Richmond, George Laycock befriended a Mr. Ridge who visited Putty and subsequently stayed. The names R.E. Ridge, Robert Ridge Snr and Robert Ridge appear on many portions of land shown on historic maps over several of the Putty parishes. Who is to know whom, but as well as having cattle, horses and pigs, either Robert Ridge Snr or Jnr  grew apples in Putty, said to be “the biggest ever seen” and pears, of the William variety. 

The names of Mr. Ridge Snr. and Jnr. and the five Laycock men were included in a Parliamentary Return of Landholders dated 1885. The return listed each person’s acreage which when combined, was 1700 acres.  Their total number of stock was recorded as 136 horses, 349 head of cattle and 36 pigs.

These same names were included in the next Putty census taken in 1891. Added were Oliver Cobcroft, James Merrick, William H. Merrick, Robert Hayman and John Mason, a drover.  Counting men, women and children, the population had grown to fifty five, thirty three males and twenty two females. There were ten dwellings in Putty, three of them uninhabited and another at Boggy Swamp where Robert Ridge lived with his wife Esther and their three children.  It seems that Putty was getting too crowded for John Mason the drover so he moved on. 

Outside interest in Putty was being generated and people from further afield began to buy Putty land that was passed in prior to 1887.  William Albert Jackson and William Henry Merrick bought two parcels while Harper Augustus Turnbull from the Colo purchased two. The ownership of all was confirmed on 3rd August, 1888.  Putty was on the move.                                                                                                                                                                                                           

Chapter 6 – The Women Who Made the Difference 

During the early years of Australian settlement, the development of Australian cities and small towns has been attributed to men, with women given little recognition. Women were not named in a census and as late as the early twentieth century a married woman’s title did not contain her Christian name, for example, she would be known as “Mrs. Robert Jones.” 

In the Howes Valley and Putty villages there was a small group of women who without them and their descendants, both places would have been very different. 

In Putty there were women such as Hannah Laycock, her grandson’s wife Mary Matcham Pitt, and her two great-granddaughters May Elizabeth Farlow and Emily Jane Laycock. 

Maria Jane Merrick, born 1815, may not have been the first woman to settle in Howes Valley, but she did so with her husband Joseph and their thirteen children. Three of her children were Caroline Susannah, Maria Jane and James Robert. 

Caroline Susannah, born in 1840, married Henry Jackson and like her mother, also had thirteen children. It was Caroline’s sons William Henry Merrick and William Albert Jackson who bought Putty land in 1888. 

 It was not unusual for a mother’s first or even second child to be given their mother’s surname. Visits from the local vicar were few and far between and it seems that even though mum and dad set up home together, only the children born after the nuptials took their father’s surname. 

Maria Jane, Caroline’s sister, was born in 1855. She married her first husband Thomas Café in 1872 and had five children. It was two of them, John Rowland Café and his sister Eliza Cafe, who settled in Putty. 

When John moved to Putty and married Mary Matcham Cobcroft, daughter of Emily Cobcroft, (nee Laycock.) it was the beginning of the Putty/Café family. 

Maria Jane Café’s husband Thomas had died as a result of a gunshot wound in 1885. Three years after his death, Maria married Edward William Medhurst. Her daughter, Eliza Cafe, at age fifteen years, married Edward’s brother Jonathan the same day. Eliza, like many other women of the time, also became the mother of thirteen children. 

Was there something about having a baker’s dozen? It appears that most of the women had thirteen babies, but sadly not all of them survived infancy. 

Maria, now Mrs. Edward Medhurst, had five more children. One of the daughters, Eva Mary Medhurst married Wilfred Cobcroft, brother of Mary Café, John’s wife. 

Sarah Ann Diplock was another woman important to the development of Putty. Born at Wollombi in 1836, she married John Medhurst from the Lower Hawkesbury and they too settled at Howes Valley. Sarah was the mother of Edward, Jonathan, Laban, John, Walter, George and Joshua, four other sons and two daughters. 

Drought conditions forced John, Laban, Walter and George north towards Denman. Edward and Maria along with Sarah and her two daughters remained in Howes Valley but Jonathan, his wife Eliza and brother Joshua moved to Putty. 

But I mustn’t forget James Robert Merrick, brother of Caroline and Eliza for he married Martha Louise Gibbs and they settled in Putty. James and Martha were the parents of George Henry Gibbs, and twelve other children named Merrick including William John, James Richard, Albert Edward, Roland Dural, Thomas Leo, and Ada Clara Martha all of whom raised Merrick children in Putty. 

It was James Richard Merrick, Martha’s son, who Haler Eliza Medhurst, one of Eliza’s daughters, set up house with and became the mother of his ten children. James and Haler never married so Haler’s children continued on with the Medhurst name. 

Caroline’s son William Henry Merrick and his wife Catherine also made a fine contribution to the Merrick population. 

The eleven pioneer women I have introduced to you were the matriarchs of the Laycock, Harris, Merrick, Cobcroft, Café, Medhurst, Jackson and Gibbs families, the families who made Putty what is was in its early years of settlement. 

I have named only a few of the Medhurst and Merrick ancestors and their descendants. Whose was the biggest family? Impossible to say. It is incredible to think that from only eleven amazing and hard working women that Putty was “up and running” so quickly. Right through the 1800’s and early 1900’s both families just got bigger and bigger. Census figures did not reflect a true account of all the children living in Putty so this made it impossible for me to figure out who might have won the prize, if there was one, for the having the greatest number of children, was it the Merricks or the Medhursts or were they all one big family after all. A family member once said to me, “don’t bother trying to trace the family trees, even those in the families cant sort it out.”                                                                                                                                                        

May Elizabeth Farlow married William J Harris, son of Richard Harris from Wollombi in 1887.  They made their home in Putty on a property they named “Greenhills”, not far along Putty Valley Road from the Lilavale/Jacobs Hollow Track.  It didn’t take long for their home to be filled with their nine little girls.    

Unfortunately William died in 1903 leaving May to manage the family and the property. May or Ma Harris as she became known, employed several farm workers and to ensure regular income, share-farmed her land.  Through necessity, she became a force to be reckoned with, ruling with an iron hand.  An example of this occurred in later years, 1938.  She made a claim against another Putty resident for alleged negligent share farming claiming she had suffered a loss of £113 10/.  ($227.00). The items she listed were; failure to drain lagoon; failure to farm portion of the property; failure to replace shed borrowed from her; use of her three horses for six months; failure to carry out certain scrub-cutting; being absent from the property for some time.  Also the expected quantity of corn was not produced with a claim submitted for the value of the shortfall. (extract Singleton Argus 7 Dec 1938). 

Born in 1865 and living until ninety three years of age, May Harris would have seen many changes occur in Putty and many people arriving and leaving.  She was involved in several disputes over property boundaries and also asked to give evidence during a court case instigated by a woman against her brother who abused her for trespassing on what he claimed to be his private road.  

Several of May’s daughters, including Rachael Susannah, remained in Putty after marrying so she was fortunate in having family support though her senior years. 

By the census of 1896, the Putty population had grown to include thirty seven males and twenty six females, some of whom were children.  In all, sixty three residents were living in thirteen wooden dwellings dotted throughout the valley.  New to Putty at that time were Henry Jackson, Thomas Cross, Robert Gosper, Thomas Simmons, Margaret Phipps (nee Cornwell) and six other men, camped out either getting timber or work.  

William Henry Merrick, son of Caroline and Henry Jackson, left Howes Valley as a young man to go “a drovin”, moving cattle through all the Eastern states of Australia.  On one occasion, he was with a team of drovers who took three hundred and sixty head of cattle from Queensland to Adelaide, slowly, so as to keep the weight on them. This trip took five months and during this period, they were seldom out of the saddle. “Swampy Bill” as he became known, returned to Howes Valley and soon afterwards he and Miss Catherine Manser from Wollombi married in 1886.  They started a dairy farm together at Howes Valley but decided to move to Putty in 1888.

Soon after arriving, they made their home in slab huts, three of which are still standing alongside Putty Valley Road.  It wasn’t very long before their twelve children, Lillieth Jane, Wilhelmina, Catherine, Rudolph, Amos, Aubrey, Dulcie, Phyllis, Muriel, Pearl, Claude and Hilte filled those little slab huts to overflowing.

William Henry Merrick and his uncle James Robert Merrick were the first of the Merrick men to settle in Putty.  At the time of the 1891 census theirs were the only Merrick names recorded.  This census also noted that living with William were four females, counted but not named and living with James, six males who were possibly boys under the age of twenty one years. 

William Merrick’s brother William Jackson was a builder/carpenter and worked on bridges and roads in the Howes Valley and Bulga districts.  When William Merrick and wife Catherine needed a bigger home to raise their large family, William the builder, constructed a house for them on the rise above the huts.  They named their new home “Hillview”.  It is still there, standing proud and looking down at the three remaining little slab huts in the valley.   

Robert Ridge Jnr. was born at Colo in 1841. He and his wife Mary Ann (nee Skuthorpe) lived in “Vine Cottage” at Boggy Swamp. They were the parents of seven children including a son they named Robert born in 1866 at Putty.  Young Robert married Georgina Cullen from Howes Valley.  Georgina took on the role of post-mistress at Putty, ran an accommodation house and sold household necessities. 

After Robert Jnr’s. wife Mary died, he married Esther Amelia Beetson. While still living at Boggy Swamp, they brought ten more children into the world but three of them died as infants.  The remains of a sad little family cemetery can be still found, tumbled down the side of Boggy Swamp Creek.  Hand chiselled into one of the headstones is the following inscriptions –


Hardships of the Bush – written by a visitor to Putty in 1898

From Howes Valley to Putty it is 16 miles, by a road which is a disgrace to civilisation – one finds himself in the valley of Putty. The district is one of agriculture and can boast several good farms, but the distance from markets, coupled with bad roads compels the inhabitants to limit their area of cultivation as the most profitable way is to rear pigs etc. with the farm produce as it is more economic to feed the produce as the bacon and pigs are more easily carried than grain. In these days one is surprised to find the old fashioned methods still in use in farming.  On the barn floor, the flail is to be observed in use there, thrashing wheat; also in one or two places the old millstones for grinding wheat are now lying idly by. They were in use up to a few years ago, when people were compelled to travel the old Bulga road.   The public buildings in Putty are a post office and a provisional school with daily attendance of about sixteen. (Extract Singleton Argus, 4 August, 1898.) 

Wheat, corn, oats, maize and sorghum was grown on most farms in Putty. As well as feed for cattle, horses, pigs and poultry the best was kept for household use.  Wheat ground into flour was used to make bread and butter was churned from cream after its separation from the cow’s milk. These tasks were often done by the children. 

The first Putty post office, with Georgina Ridge as post-mistress, opened on 1st January, 1877 and closed on 30th September, 1915.  It reopened on the 1st January 1927 and continued operating until 30th November, 1979.  From 1927, the Post Offices were run by Vic Turnbull at “Happy Valley” and later by Sue Ellis at “Fairview”.

The first school building in Putty was a small structure on George Laycock’s property. Lessons began in April 1884 with Mr. David Williams the appointed teacher. He alternated his teaching days between Putty and Springfield, near Howes Valley.  A new Putty school house was built in 1898 and this building was moved to an approved Department of Public Instruction site near Turnbull Creek in 1903.  By the late 1950’s the school had been moved to nearby the Putty Hall with lessons also being held in the hall. It was operational on and off for more than eighty years beginning with the status of house to house school, then half time, provisional, public and lastly a subsidised school.  Putty school closed permanently in 1966. 

It wasn’t an easy task to get stock to the sales yards in Singleton. Horses pulling a wooden cart load of wriggly pigs would not have been a good combination so William and Catherine Merrick walked their pigs to the markets.  The trip would take about a week and if they got five pounds for a big fat porker they considered themselves very lucky.  The farmers who raised turkeys to sell would also walk them to the markets.  Before their trip started, the turkey’s feet would be coated in warm tar and then sand to ensure they still had feet when they arrived.  I wonder how many flew away on the way. Imagine this.  You are on your way home from the local, you see a big black thing fall from the sky, go to investigate and find a turkey wearing sand shoes. Perhaps one too many? 

On market days, the women would travel by horse and cart into town.  Wearing their best outfits, they would meet up with old friends, catch up on news and return home with supplies and little knick-knacks which they needed or just fancied. Because of the distance involved, this would only happen three or four times a year. Retail therapy, only a few times a year?  As my granddaughters would say, NO WAY!                                                                                                  

It was the year 1901 before the first McTaggarts, Richard and his family members, were included in a Putty census.  But forty years before then, another little person from the Taggart family arrived in Putty.  Born in 1859, Henry Frederick Taggart was the son of a young Aboriginal girl known as Emily and John Taggart, son of Charles Taggart and Elizabeth McNamara.  Henry lived with the Cobcroft family.

The Taggart and McTaggart names are well known in the district with family members currently living in Broke, Bulga and Singleton.  Besides the different spelling, they have a common ancestor, convict Charles Taggart, or with aliases, Mctaggart, Taggard or Mcintaggart who at 27 years of age was transported to the colony aboard the ship “Earl St Vincent” arriving at Sydney Cove in December 1818.  On landing, Charles was sent to the Hawkesbury, where, after serving out his seven year sentence for robbery, he married Elizabeth Judith McNamara.  Charles and Elizabeth became parents to seven children, one they named John, born in 1840. 

Charles did well with his crops and cattle and around the mid 1850’s was able to purchase land in the Howes Valley area.  South of Howes Valley was a property at Burrowell owned by a Mr. Chapman. Very different to the current Chapman property, it was expansive, joining up to Thomas Hungerford’s even larger property at Baerami. 

Family stories, handed down through generations, tell of a ‘shindig’ held at Mr. Chapman’s in about 1858 which young John Taggart decided to attend. Saddling up his horse, he rode some distance from Howes Valley to the “Sandy Hollow” area at Burrowell where the Chapmans lived.  There he met Emily, a young Aboriginal girl, said to belong to the locally based indigenous group, the Wonnarua People.  Emily was eighteen years of age and had been working for Mrs. Chapman as a domestic servant for several years.  On the evening of the party she was working in the kitchen helping to get things organised to make the event a success.  It came to be that on this night, John met up with Emily and took her away from her duties.   

 Not long after the ‘shindig’, it was obvious that Emily was pregnant.  Emily and John’s son, Henry Frederick Taggart, was born in 1859.  John’s family was not at all happy with John that he had fathered a child with an Aboriginal woman and so distanced themselves from Emily and Henry.  This left the new mother with a difficult decision to make. She was given the choice of either finding someone she trusted to care for her baby or leave the employment of Mrs.Chapman to care for her baby herself.

 So sadly and reluctantly Emily packed up Henry and delivered him to Mr. Cobcroft at Putty who had agreed to look after him.  William and Elizabeth Cobcroft already had eight children and Henry, or Harry as he became known, was raised along with them as one of the family.  He had the opportunity to enjoy a full young life at Putty and while there was able to mix with and learn the ways of the Darkinjung Aboriginal people.   He kept in contact with his mother and would regularly ride his horse along the tracks from Putty to her home at “Sandy Hollow”, Burrowell.  When travelling further north to Howes Valley, Broke and Bulga, where many important gathering sites and ceremonial tracks existed, he also learnt the ways of the Wannarua People.

John Taggart married Elizabeth Sylvester in February 1860 and chose to use the family name of McTaggart as did his brothers and sisters so distancing themselves even further from Emily and the little Aboriginal son.

 In 1891, Harry married Mary Lawrence from Singleton and they became parents to eight children, Margueretta, Beatrice, Eliza, George, Mary, Henry, Amos and Marjorie. 

Harry’s son George would often travel with his father to visit his grandmother Emily.  There was many a stop for a ‘chin wag’ with someone his father knew from his ‘mob’ so the trip would always take quite a while and George had to be very patient.

One of Harry and Mary’s grandsons, Eric, born in 1918, had an entertaining sense of humour.  Among his friends was Tommy Sales from the Putty branch of the Darkinjung clan.  Tommy, acting as Eric’s tout, would narrate the most exaggerated stories to those willing to listen during which Eric would emerge from the Wollombi bush as a wild uncivilised Aborigine complete with primitive wooden weapons disappearing again as quickly as he arrived.  Far from the truth, Eric, highly regarded as a gentleman, lived quietly in Broke and hunted game with a rifle. Eric was often sought after to share the knowledge he had of his ancestors and their ways which he had learnt from his father and grandfather.

 Harry’s great grandson, Singleton Elder Uncle Warren Taggart, continues to this day to pass on his knowledge of the traditional ways of his ancestors.  By often visiting the local schools and sharing his knowledge with cultural groups, Warren is dedicated to maintaining the awareness of the history of the Aboriginal People of the Hunter Valley. 

Sadly Emily’s family has no photo of her, no record of how she spent her later years and no record of where she is buried. 

Continued here

Margaret Ferguson © 2016

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