II. Whitelaw the Bootmaker at the mid 19th Century Belford Hunter Valley Railway Construction Camp

My husband’s great great grand parents, Scottish immigrants Robert Hamilton Whitelaw and Elizabeth Guy Jack, together with their eldest child Mary, came to Australia as assisted immigrants in 1855. Robert, a bootmaker, at one time around 1863 went looking for gold at Mt Mitchell, but struck out.

Having arrived on February 21 1855 on the Anna in Sydney, did the Whitelaws continue on to Maitland, or did they stop in Sydney, and at a later time sail on the Anna Maria up to Maitland ? It is clear that they were in Maitland in 1856, ie the year of the birth of their their first Australian born  child, John, in Maitland.

Nevertheless, it seems that the Whitelaw family spent some time following railway construction camps for the Great Northern Hunter River Railway, including at the Belford Camp in the 1860’s – 1, 2, 3. Being there by 1856, this would have been during the very early days of the Great Northern Hunter River Railway’s construction. Eight years later in 1864, a travel writer wrote an interesting account of the Great Northern Hunter River Railway – see Trove reference.

Though Robert wasn’t actually working on the Railway. … seeing an opportunity for a bootmaker, he fixed the camp’s construction workers’ boots – no doubt there were many boots to be repaired. The Whitelaw tale is interesting, in that it illuminates the small independent contractors that followed the railway construction camps in the mid 19th Century years..

By 1880, and some time after his wife Elizabeth’s 1876 death, Robert Whitelaw was cutting cane and getting fairly good money at Grafton.


Whitelaw Descendants working on the Railways and Tramways.

Robert’s sons seem not to have worked on the  Railways either. However one of his daughters, Elizabeth, married James Pead, who became a steam loco driver in the Hunter.  Tragically Robert’s son in law James was critically injured in NSW’s first fatal steam locomotive boiler explosion, and died of burns the following day on 5.12.1905.Subsequently quite a few of Robert Whitelaw’s Pead grandsons and great grandsons also became railway or tramway men – three generations  and a fourth generation connected ! And one grandson married a railway typist, the first Railway Lady in my husband’s family ! Robert Whitelaw could be truly considered the patriarch of a railway family !


A Whitelaw Son Remembers the Early Days from the Construction 

But what other details are there of the Whitelaw – Pead family’s earliest Railway connections ?  Fortunately one of Robert’s sons Andrew, a tailor, born at a railway construction camp at Belford in 1860, enjoyed a long life. Andrew Whitelaw’s memories were reported on a number of occasions, before his death in 1951. These days the railway station at Belford is gone, though nearby is still considered a good spot for trainspotting. And now the area is a commuter suburb.

SLOW GROWTH OF TOWN WATCHED FOR 80 YEARS – MR A. J. WHITELAW REACHES 85th MILESTONE (1 – 1947)
Mr A. J. Whitelaw, of Castlereagh Street, who yesterday reached the 85th milestone of his life, says that he deplores the slow progress of Singleton. Born in the district, Mr Whitelaw spent most of his bis life in the town of Singleton, and has watched its gradual growth during his life. Mr Whitelaw was bom at Belford on March 13, 1862, in a tent.
His father followed the railway, camps as a tradesman. As far as he can recall, he said that Belford then had four hotels, as there was a fairly big camp there. About 1863 he said his father, with several companions, went prospecting for sold around the hills at Mitchell’s Flat.   belford-map
Referring to his trade, he said he came to Singleton in 1882 to work for the late John Maguire. For many years after that he said he was back and forth between Singleton and Lambton. In 1887, Mr Whitelaw said he showed the late Mr Jack Woods how to put in his first stitch.  Mr Woods passed away on Tuesday of this week.
During his long life here, Mr Whitelaw has taken a keen interest in the affairs of the town and district. He has been a member of many different organisations. Living now in retirement, he gets a lot out of life. Keen on public speaking, he has often been heard at various local functions, and his ability to remember poems of long ago years has amazed many. The old gentleman received many congratulations yesterday in reaching another milestone in his long travel of life.
And in 1948, another interview .. though Robert Whitelaw’s great great grandson David Christian, whether the family arrived on the Anna into Australia, and not the Anna Maria directly ?
” PERSONALITY OF THE WEEK  – Followed Development of District for 80 years – 

MR. A. J.WHITELAW RECALLS EARLY HUNTER RIVER HISTORY

The early days of rail construction, steam navigation, and Hunter River district development were recalled by Mr. A. J. Whitelaw, of Castlereagh Street, who was born at Belford 86 years ago in a rail construction camp. Mr. Whitelaw told an”Argus” representative, during an interview this week, that his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Robert Hamilton Whitelaw, and his elder sister landed at Port Maitland from Scotland nearly 90 years ago. They sailed in one of the first steam boats, a stern wheel paddle drogue. “Anna Maria,” which afterwards plied between Newcastle, Hunter River towns and the Northern Rivers, including the Clarence. During her life on the Hunter, the “Anna Maria” carried cargoes of rail and bridge construction materials, timber and wheat, he said. Throughout her life he followed her history until she was bombed and sunk by the Japanese as she backed out at a mangrove shelter on the New Guinea coast during the 1939-45 war, he added. Explaining the origin of “Port” Maitland, Mr. Whitelaw said that Newcastle was originally a “convict settlement” and when the “free” settlers began to come to Australia in numbers they avoided the “convict port” and proceeded further up the river, which flowed strongly to Maitland, to anchorage there. At Maitland his parents left the boat and joined the railway construction crews which were extending this, then, new means of transport up the valley. His father was not a rail worker, but a bootmaker and served the railway construction workers in this capacity as a private enterprise. In common with the spirit of his times, Mr. Whitelaw senior and many other railwaymen got gold fever, which at that time was responsible for a huge influx of settlers to Australia from all parts of the world, out to make a quick fortune at the diggings.
NO GOLD AT MITCHELL’S FLAT
For some reason, known only to himself and his mates, Robert Hamilton Whitelaw prospected for gold at Mitchell’s Flat where they struck a “duffer”. Mr. Whitelaw said after his failure at Mitchell’s Flat his father returned to his trade at Maitland and at other centres in the Hunter Valley, where the remainder of his large family of 13 was born. His eldest sister, Mrs. C. Croese, died at Maitland only recently, aged 90 years. From Maitland his father moved to Newcastle where the family received their education under the education system then established. Mr. Whitelaw gained most or his education at St. John’s, on Lake Road, although he also attended for a short period Junction Street School, when his parents lived near Welham’s Pottery Works, where his brother worked.
SAW DUKE ARRIVE
It was during this period that the former Duke of Edinburgh visited Newcastle. Mr. Whitelaw recalls turning out with the rest of the family and walking down to the port to see the Duke’s ship, the H.M. S. “Galatea” come to anchorage. When his schooling was finished at. the age of 10 or 11 years, Mr. Whitelaw entered employment with a firm of plasterers, leaving it after a short period of employment only. His next work was in an iron foundry, but he left this for other work, and it was not until he was 14 years old that he entered the tailoring business as an apprentice.
CAME TO SINGLETON IN 1882
He completed his training and in 1882 first came to Singleton as a journeyman tailor in the employ of the late John Maguire, of whom Mr. Whitelaw spoke very highly both as a man and as a craftsman. During the decade following his first arrival at Singleton, Mr. Whitelaw said, he was a bit of “a rolling stone” and spent much of his time moving from place to place. He worked for some years for a big Sydney tailoring firm, before returning to Singleton and establishing a business here. Mr. Whitelaw recalled the low wages of the late 80’s and early ’90’s, when, business returns were not always great either. This was followed by a drought at the turn of the century, but later, conditions began to improve, Australia began its strongest move towards  industrialisation during the 1914-18 war. He remarked on the difficulties facing men with large families (he had 13 children) in rearing them and educating them to take their place in a changing world. During his life Mr: Whitelaw said he has seen a gradual bettering of conditions for every body, but he does not think people appreciate the benefits that modern life has brought to them.
PROGRESS NOT APPRECIATED
“These changes are not only in obvious things like transport and power,” he said, “but in the providing of adequate water supplies, and health safe guards, medical services, ambulances, and hospitals and dozens of other  commonplace things today, which were either primitive or nonexistant in my youth. Mr. Whitelaw, who is 86 years of age. concluded that he had seen Singleton grow to be one of the richest districts in N.S.W.
 
As a tailor, Mr. Whitelaw said that a greater variety of materials were offered in the years prior to the war than were available in his youth, but he did not think that mass machine tailoring made for good workmanship. Singleton was a small but lively little town when he first setted here, and it has remained much the same despite its expansion from the Moore’s Corner business centre to further up the town.”

Building the Great Northern Hunter Valley Railway

Building the Great Hunter – Hunter River Railway ? It had started out as a private affair in 1853 – conceived by James Mitchell. But by 1855, it had been transferred to the NSW Government creating the first public railway in the Hunter Valley.

newcastle-railway

With the opening of the first section of the Greater Northern Hunter River Valley railway in 1857, the railway began to be extended eastward to Newcastle and westward to Maitland (from 1855)  were completed in 1858 – see Maitland to Morpeth section. Also there may have been some railway construction occurring in Jump Up Creek near Singleton – apparently the Maitland to Singleton railway route had been undertaken in 1856.

Railway Navvies were at Lochinvar in 1859/1860 – and this section was opened in 1860. The railway reached Singleton in 1863 – with The Singleton Railway Gallop song. Presumably this was the time of the Whitelaw’s following the railway construction camps.

Construction reached Muswellbrook  in 1869, and Scone in 1871 – Scone to West Tamworth in 1878 including Werris Creek and Tamworth in 1878, Armidale in 1883, Glen Innes in 1884, and finally reached the Queensland border at Wallangarra in the Granite Belt  1888. It travelled the spine of the Great Dividing Range – see a list of stations along the line, both open and closed.nd there was some construction taking place beyond the 1857 official opening – extensions eastward to Newcastle and westward to Maitland (from 1855)  were completed in 1858 – see Maitland to Morpeth section. Also there may have been some railway construction occurring in Jump Up Creek near Singleton – apparently the Maitland to Singleton railway route had been undertaken in 1856 – Railway Navvies were at Lochinvar in 1859/1860 – and this section was opened in 1860. It reached Singleton in 1863 – with The Singleton Railway Gallop song. Muswellbrook  was reached in 1869, and Scone in 1871 – Scone to West Tamworth in 1878 including Werris Creek and Tamworth in 1878, Armidale in 1883, Glen Innes in 1884, and finally reached the Queensland border at Wallangarra in the Granite Belt  1888. It travelled the spine of the Great Dividing Range – see a list of stations along the line, both open and closed.



Back to 2017 -2018 – 130 Years of the South Coast Railway and My Own Railway History Journey


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About Kerrie Anne Christian

Interests - Travel, Photography, Developing Websites, Social Media, Writing, Local History, Researcher, Genealogy
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