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Wood, John Butler (1819–1919)

from Grenfell Record (NSW)

Some time ago, we endeavoured to get from Mr Wood some facts in connection with his pioneering in the early days, and the information now given was supplied by him, and which, we doubt not, will be found most interesting, and will be widely read. It took some time to get all the material for the following narrative, for, as is well known to all old friends, Mr Wood was not a man to talk much about himself, and still less was he likely to blow his own trumpet.

Mr Wood's father, the late John Wood, came to the colony about 1814. Before coming out, he was a Director of the Bank of England; resigned his position, married, and immediately after came to Australia — an out-and-out pioneer; — brought money with him, which he invested in land and stock; the latter he principally imported.

J. B. Wood was born at Parramatta February 3rd, 1819, at Charley Pauley's hotel — (there were no lying-in hospitals then) — Pauley's hotel was afterwards and is even now known as the Woolpack Hotel. Mr Wood's father at that time had a property at Castlereagh, on the Nepean, and the subject of this memoir could remember the first punt put over the river, also the chained convicts who were making the road from Parramatta to Penrith, and subsequently up Lapstone Hill. These men were known as "The Murdering Gang" — used to march to their work in leg-irons, and work in same all day — chained in twos — in charge of soldiers with loaded muskets. The Commandant — or maybe the head of the commissariat — was the late Judge Forbes' father, and was a frequent visitor at Mr J. B. Wood's father's house. We fancy hearing that Mr Forbes' father was at that time a pensioned man (We were under an impression that the father of the late Judge was Sir David Forbes, of judicial celebrity.)

Mr J. B. Wood was educated at the Sydney College — twenty-six pupils— now known as the Sydney Grammar School, with a present roll of about 600 boys. He left school at fourteen years of age and went up to his father's station at Waugoola, then known as Coota, near what is now Woodstock, which was then the furthest out station in the West. His father, previous to acquiring Waugoola, took up land in the Hartley Valley — Lowther Park, one of the first men to pioneer west of the Blue Mountains. Governor Macquarie — who was a great personal friend of John Wood, senior — about 1815 (Waterloo year) crossed the mountains, and travelled the new road to where Bathurst now stands, with the object of founding Bathurst, and a few years afterwards he went up to Lowther Park, and stayed two days with Mr Wood. This was about the end of 1821 or early in 1822, and was made in order to commemorate the aforesaid event. The Governor and Mr Wood each planted a tree, English oaks, close by the roadside, opposite Hassan's Walls — a good view of these walls is obtained coming down from Mudgee, as also a magnificent view of Capertee Valley from the Crown Ridge. These two oaks, magnificent specimens, may be seen nourishing there to-day by anyone passing along the road (we wonder how many know their history) though now unfenced or protected in any way.

When Mr J. B. Wood was in his fifteenth year, he and the then overseer from Waugoola started out to explore the country west of the Lachlan. They crossed the river somewhere near where Cowra near stands, and went south-west, striking the Tyagong Creek, and found Brundah, and found the springs there. These, giving such a splendid water supply, appealed to them, hence they took up Brundah, which included Native Dog (now Adelargo). They also took up Landra and Warrengong, that part west of the main range; Bogolong-Eualdrie, then known as Holey Camp. Brundah was then the furthest out-west station, or occupied country, the late James White being the next man to take up country out back, and he took up Burramunda, Burrangong, and Lambing Flat.

A short time after going to Brundah to live, when he was in his seventeenth year, the spirit of adventure being on him, he, with a blackfellow, set out to go further west, and spy out the land. They followed the Tyagong Creek (so named by the blacks, owing to the colonies of wombats along its banks), down past the end of the Weddin on to the flat country, later on called The Levels — Bland being a much later name. They went some-where in the vicinity of where Morangorell now is, but owing to the number of wild blacks, and fearing them somewhat, they returned to Brundah. When Mr Wood and the blackfellow decided to camp for the night at a waterhole in the creek about where Morangorell now is, they saw plenty of evidence that blacks were in the neighbourhood, so for safety they tied their horses to trees close by their intended camping-place. Just before sundown, the blackfellow walked some short distance from the camp, and lit a fire in a very hollow tree, which later on belched forth a great funnel of flame, towering right above the trees. Mr Wood became suspicious that his black was signalling to others, so immediately it was dark he told the black to saddle the horses up, which was done with reluctance, and they then rode quite a mile away from the camp, and again dismounted and tied the horses, and put in the night without a fire. Upon returning in the morning to their first camp they saw tracks of scores of blacks all round the fire, which evidenced the lucky escape, and the correctness of the presentiment about the signal fire. Fearing the treachery of the black, he then returned to Brundah. The blacks at this time were very numerous and dangerous on Brundah and Bogolong, the splendid water supply at both those places affording them good camping grounds. Being so impressed with the nature of the country on The Levels, Mr Wood shortly after made another trip there, and was absolutely the first white man to go on to the Bland country. He then took up the station now known as Moonbucca, Euroka, and later on transferred to the late T. Burrett; also Arramagong, afterwards sold to Daly. The blacks gave the name Euroka (setting sun), Eurabba (rising sun).

There were no rents or licenses paid when Brundah and Burrangong were taken up. A man just squatted down then and claimed a certain amount of land, giving with his application for same certain landmarks, such as hills, creeks, blazed corners, &c., as his boundaries, which in due course were allotted him. Bumbaldry just about this time was taken up by Henry Dixon Owen, who later on transferred it to the late W. R. Watt. When application was made for country, the applicant, when it was granted, was compelled, within a certain time, to put so many head of stock on — sheep, horses or cattle. Owing to trouble with the men, Mr. Wood was forced to abandon Bogolong. The men he had there were all convicts, and a bad lot, who would stop at nothing. At this time he had about 4000 sheep on Brundah. These had been brought up from Waugoola, also a number of horses and cattle. The sheep were shepherded, of course — two men to each flock, one man being really a hut-keeper, as well as company for the shepherd, owing to the fear of blacks, who made persistent raids on the huts, stole the rations, and were not above killing a shepherd occasionally. In order to combat this trouble on the Bogan, when it was pioneered, some of the station owners conceived the brilliant idea of salting with strychnine certain parcels of flour and leaving cooked strychnine-salted loaves in conspicuous places in the huts, with the result that after a raid was made blacks would be seen dead around an outstation shepherd's hut as thick as dead marines round a bush shanty. Mr Wood never countenanced anything of this sort; in fact, he was always careful to treat the blacks in in a friendly way, and lost nothing by it.

Mr. Wood's brother, Joseph, long since deceased, being younger, only came into partnership some time after Brundah was taken up. The latter was the horsey man of the two, and one of the best judges of horses in the colony.

Just when owners began to increase their flocks well by breeding, scab broke out in the country, and a large area of the western stocked country was declared by the Government scab infested, and the Government, in order to stamp it out thoroughly, issued a proclamation compelling sheep-owners to kill and burn all their sheep, the Government compensating them to the magnificent extent of 2s 6d per head. This destruction of stock was faithfully carried out on Brundah and a few other stations, but a number of owners, realising the difficulty of getting more sheep, hid their flocks in the mountains till the scare was over, killed and burnt a few, and misled the Government inspectors; showed charred heaps, and then later on were in a position to quickly re-stock their land (cunning dodge, eh?) Anyway, they scored by it. Mr J. B. Wood's father imported a lot of very fine mares from Valparaiso, and which were turned out on Brundah. These mares were brought out by a veterinary surgeon named Middlemiss, the grandfather of Mr Jim Middlemiss, who travels for Winchcombe, Carson, & Co. This Middlemiss was the first man to build and open a hotel at what is now Cowra, and subsequently he sold it to Cushy.

Mr J. B. Wood laid the foundation of Cowra, as when stock were taken west of the Lachlan to Brundah and other stations then being stocked, they would always be making back east, and many would be lost for all time. Mr Wood applied to the Government to have a pound yard on the bank of the Lachlan. The Government granted this request and appointed a man named Harry Doyle as poundkeeper, and all the stock owners west of there had to contribute to the poundkeeper's support. By this means the stock making back were held up at the river pound till owners could get them. The poundkeeper would send word along about stock by a blackfellow. There were no pound fees or dues there then, but tips were the order of the day. So the first building at Cowra was the poundkeeper's hut, to be followed by the Middlemiss hotel. When the Turon opened, the diggers drifted through that way from Victoria. That was long before the Lambing Flat rush.

Fat bullocks were sent from Brundah to Port Phillip (Melbourne), and sold there for 25s per head, that being about the regular price.

Mr Wood some years after owned Derriwang, New Bundaburrah, and Burra Burra stations, north of the Lachlan, below Forbes. He was married at Carcoar by the Rev Agnew. That place was then the outmost town and post office. Before it was established they used to send to Bathurst for mails or for a bottle of medicine. He was the first man to grow wheat west of Carcoar. The ground would be hoed up to put the seed in. This work was done by ticket-of-leave men, good conduct fellows. At Kelso the first flour mill was erected, and he used to send a dray-load of wheat there to be ground, though the men on the station preferred to use wheat meal; they would grind the grain themselves, using a small hand-mill attached to a post. (Thus arose the expression 'to bung the mill.')

The first horse dray taken over the Blue Mountains with stores was piloted by the late John Memory, father of the late James Memory, well-known round Grenfell. Memory sen., took the dray over for Mr Wood's father, and on his second trip had his leg broken and had to be taken back to Parramatta to get it set. Mr Memory, sen. lived with Mr. Wood, sen. till the latter died, then lived with Mr. J. B. Wood for years. He and the Mitton Bros, practically grew to manhood in Mr. Wood's employ. Mr. Wood joined the Masonic craft about 70 years ago, and was perhaps the oldest Mason living in the State.

He was appointed a Justice of the Peace 68 years ago; he used to ride to Cowra every second week to sit on the bench, and did this for years before Grenfell was opened. As upon shortly after the opening of a hotel at Cowra a police station was established there.

Some twelve months ago the "Australasian" newspaper of Melbourne set out to find the oldest living Australian-born, they settled on a Victorian aged 92 years, but a member of the Royal Society of Sydney trotted out Mr J. B. Wood's age and a copy of his birth certificate — hence he was admitted to be the oldest that could be traced.

He was a fine shot with a rifle or a revolver, and a good bush rider — had many encounters with the bushrangers, shot O'Malley's horse dead under him one night, when the bushrangers were trying to steal some horses out of the Brundah stables. He and the late Dan Mylecharane took Lowry a prisoner. Lowry had stolen a horse out of the Brundah stables one wet night, they got on his tracks and followed him out near the Weddin Mount when they got sight of him, ran him down and handed him over to the police.

By the way, Mr Wood says Weddin is not correct, the blacks formerly called it "Weedong," meaning a big look-out. The diggers in later years altered it to Weddin. There were no better horses in the colony than the old Brundah horses, — the well-known 3 and J3 brands, and the JW over 5 (James White's) were equal to anything.

The sires used on the station were Jerrysneak (imp.), Kissmequick (imp.), Javelin (imp.), Vagabond, and Rotton. Many of the old hands round Grenfell will remember the stock from some of those sires. Mr. Wood bred a few good race-horses, notably, Silvertail, Comet, and Jerrydiddler, each of which won a Bathurst Cup and many other races. Three-mile heats in those days. Of course most know the history of Con O'Brien, a shepherd employed by Mr. Wood, finding gold, date &c., scarcity of water and where carted from &c. O'Brien's sheep yards were somewhere about where the post-office now is. Mr. Wood was a life member of the Hospital, School of Arts, P.A. & H. Association, Masonic Lodges (all when they were first founded, in fact was one of those instrumental in founding them), and used to contribute to every church in Grenfell.

Mr. Wood left Brundah, handing it over to his sons, Messrs. J. Q. and P. Wood, about 1882, going to Sydney, to live with his wife and daughters — his wife pre-deceased him about 15 years ago. Five sons survive him, Mr. O'Malley Wood (Commissioner of the Government Savings Bank) Phil. Wood, of Kirribilli, Sydney, Prince Wood, of Schute, Bell & Co., Dr. F. Butler-Wood, of Brisbane, and Sid Wood— also three daughters. Two sons and three daughters pre-deceased him.

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Citation details

'Wood, John Butler (1819–1919)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/wood-john-butler-28407/text36038, accessed 21 October 2019.

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