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Fagan, Michael (1837–1912)

One of the last of the early pioneers of this district, Mr. Michael Fagan, died at Kendall on the evening of the 2nd inst. Deceased, who was about 70 years of age, had been for some time ailing, but despite all that loving care and the skilled treatment of Dr. Begg could compass, he peacefully passed away. The cause of death was senile decay and enteritis. The late Mr. Fagan was born in Sydney, but spent his childhood and youth in Gosford, where his parents resided. He was one of the oldest Justices of the Peace in these parts, and was a man eminently respected for his sterling worth by all who had the pleasure of his acquaintance. He first came to this district about the year 1873 — a capable, energetic, young man — as agent and representative for his brothers, Messrs. William and Peter Fagan, who traded under the name of Fagan Bros., a firm well known and highly esteemed in the timber industry in the early days. What is now Laurieton was then known as "The Peach Orchard." He made Kendall his headquarters. There were very few sawmills in existence at that time, and pit-sawing was greatly in vogue. Mr. Fagan at once saw the possibilities of a prosperous trade here, and as agent for Messrs. Fagan Bros, he became a large buyer of girders, palings, shingles, laths, &c. The headquarters of the firm were in Sydney at what was long known as Fagans' wharf, and they had several vessels in commission trading between Sydney and Camden Haven, some of the best known that come to mind were the Spurwing, Patonga, Ettalong, Bronze-wing, and Dollar Bird. The late Mr. Fagan took up considerable land here on his own behalf, and the firm built and fitted up a general store, which he managed. There were very few settlers on Camden Haven in those days, and this firm can no doubt claim to have been the first shippers and storekeepers in the district. They disposed of their store business in the early "eighties" to Mr. A. E. Ellis. With the exception of a short absence about this time Mr. Fagan resided permanently in the district since, and was wont to take an active part in every movement calculated to further its progress. Men of the stamp of the old pioneers, who uncomplainingly bore the heat and burden of the day, and blazed the track for later generations to follow, can ill be spared, but in the immutable course of nature they must pass hence, and those who reap where they have sown can fittingly shed a silent tear of sorrow and regret, and wish them well with God.

The funeral took place on Tuesday, the 3rd inst., many old friends being present to pay their last respects. The chief mourner was Mr. Peter Fagan, who hurried to his brother's side as soon as he heard he was seriously ill, and did everything possible to cheer and comfort him.

The Rev. Father Kelly, of Taree, spiritually administered to the deceased during his illness, and the Rev. Father O'Shea officiated at the grave. The late Mr. Fagan is survived by five brothers and one sister. "After life's fitful fever he sleeps well."

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The death of Mr. Michael Fagan, and the mention of the Fagan family, recalled the memory of the greatest poet our land has yet produced. Kendall, whose name is commemorated in this district, was an intimate friend of the Fagan family, being their accountant at Brisbane Water (better known now as Gosford) and subsequently here at Kendall (called after him). Some of the old identities still remember him, and his habit of taking strolls through the bush to commune with nature. A strong and deep friendship and affection existed between the poet and the Fagan family and their father, and many of his poems, as well as prose matter, were written while with them. He was left-handed in the use of the pen, so Mr. Peter Fagan informs me, and one can well believe it after inspecting a specimen of his writing. While residing here he was a frequent contributor to the Sydney press. After the Kendall store was sold the poet returned to Sydney. Mr. Peter Fagan enlisted the influence of the late Rt. Hon. W. B. Dalley, and interviewed the late Sir Henry Parkes (then Premier) on his behalf, and the latter appointed him Forest Inspector. It might be mentioned that Kendall was one of twin sons, and was born on his father's farm near Ulladulla on the 18th April, 1841. According to his son, when the poet was 14, he was taken on a whaling voyage by one of his uncles for two years, an experience to be recalled only by two poems, "The Ballad of Tanna," and "Beyond Kerguelen." When 16, a nervous, delicate lad, he struck out for himself in Sydney, finding work here and there. He next became clerk to a Grafton solicitor, James Lionel Michael, a cultured man, who encouraged his literary bent, and lent him works of literature. It was early in the "sixties" that his first poetical work began to appear in the columns of the Sydney papers. He died on the 1st August, 1882, and was buried in the cemetery at Waverley.

"There he sleeps, the tired bard,
The deepest sleep; and lo! I proffer
These tender leaves of my regard
With hands that falter as they offer."

Some years after his death a memorial column, erected by unforgetting friends, was publicly unveiled. To the inscription thereon, at the graceful suggestion of the late W. B. Dalley, an old friend, was added Shelley's beautiful lines:—

"Awake him not! Surely he takes his fill
Of deep and liquid rest, forgetful of all ill."

During the Christmas of 1874 Kendall was staying with his friends, the Fagans, at Gosford. He and two or three of the brothers strolled one day through the bush, when they came upon a rock-pool in a glen, beside which there was a fair-sized natural stone tablet, the face worn fairly smooth. He suggested that as it was unlikely they would ever again all meet at that spot they should commemorate the event by leaving their initials on the stone. This they did with the aid of a tomahawk. This incident is recalled in his poem "Names upon a Stone." Mr. P. Fagan informs me that twenty years or so after, Henry Lawson, the late Victor Daly, and another visited the spot, but could find no trace of the stone, and came to the conclusion the thing was a myth. Mr. Fagan, who hadn't visited the spot for some years, was non-plussed. He knew the stone should be there-about, and that their initials should be on it even if time had nearly obliterated them. He searched about for hours, and eventually stumbled across a stone overgrown with moss that looked like the one he wanted. He scraped the moss off the face, and there, sure enough, were their initials. With what seems like prophetic vision Kendall mused:—

"I wonder if the leaves that screen
The rockpool of the past
Are yet as soft and cool and green
As when we saw them last!
I wonder if that tender thing
The moss, has overgrown
The letters by the limpid spring —
Our names upon the stone!

With your permission I would like to give the whole of this poem. It will no doubt be new to many of your readers.

NAMES UPON A STONE.
(Inscribed to G. L. Fagan, Esq)

Across bleak widths of broken sea
A fierce north-easter breaks,
And makes a thunder on the lea —
A whiteness of the lakes.
Here, while beyond the rainy stream
The wild winds sobbing blow,
I see the river of my dream
Four wasted years ago.

Narrara of the waterfalls,
The darling of the hills,
Whose home is under mountain walls
By many-luted rills!
Her bright green nooks and channels cool
I never more may see;
But ah! the Past was beautiful —
The sights that used to be.

There was a rock-pool in a glen
Beyond Narrara's sands;
The mountains shut it in from men,
In flowerful fairy lands.
But once we found its dwelling place —
The lovely and the lone;
 And, in a dream, I stooped to trace
Our names upon a stone.

Above us, where the starlike moss
Shone on the wet green wall
That spanned the straitened stream across,
We saw the waterfall.
A silver singer far away
By folded hills and hoar, I
ts voice is in the woods to-day —
A voice I hear no more.

I wonder if the leaves that screen
The rock-pool of the past
Are yet as soft and cool and green
As when we saw them last!
I wonder if that tender thing,
The moss, has overgrown
The letters by the limpid spring —
Our names upon the stone!

Across the face of scenes we know
There may have come a change;
The places seen four years ago
Perhaps would now look strange.
To you, indeed, they cannot be
What haply once they were:
A friend* beloved by you and me
No more will greet us there.

Because I know the filial grief
That shrinks beneath the touch —
The noble love whose words are brief,
I will not say too much.
But often, when the night-winds strike
Across the sighing rills,
I think of him whose life was like
The rock-pool's in the hills.

A beauty like the light of song
Is in my dreams that show
The grand old man who lived so long
As spotless as the snow.
A fitting garland for the dead
I cannot compass yet;
But many things he did and said
I never will forget.

In dells where once we used to rove
The slow sad water grieves;
And ever comes from glimmering grove
The liturgy of leaves.
But time and toil have marked my face —
My heart has older grown,
Since, in the woods, I stooped to trace
Our names upon the stone.

* Referring to old Mr. Fagan, sen., father of the brothers Fagan.

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Citation details

'Fagan, Michael (1837–1912)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/fagan-michael-27705/text35296, accessed 12 November 2019.

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