A Wonnangatta Pioneer

In 1866/1867 Harry Smith in the company of his mother Ellen and step father Oliver Smith were the very first non-indigenous people to settle and live in the Wonnangatta Station. Harry’s mother died there and is buried in the private Wonnangatta cemetery. Oliver moved with the kids to Cowa, just North of Dargo. Some years later Harry returned to the Wonnangatta River (but some 20 miles downstream of the Station where his mother is buried) to a place called Eaglevale. Circa 1885 Harry built his own log cabin at Eaglevale and was to live in this cabin for the remainder of his life. In 1918 his good friend Jim Barclay was murdered in the Wonnangatta Station.  The following is a summary of Harry’s life.

Harry Smith mounted on his horse.
Harry Smith mounted on his horse.

Henry Hayes (later to change his name to Harry Smith) was born on the 1st May 1859 at Mount Blackwood, Victoria, to parents George Hayes and Ellen (nee, Toole). The parents residential address was given as Sheppards Road Mount Blackwood. Harry had two elder brothers, George born in 1856 and James born in 1857 who were also born in Mount Blackwood. Ellen was to have one more child with George, a girl Mary born in 1861. Ellen was then to bear six children to American Oliver Smith, I believe Harry outlived them all.

George Hayes was to move his family to the Dargo Victoria area circa 1863 when Harry was only four years old. They may have lived at Matheson Flat (14 km as the crow flies North of Dargo, at the junction of the old upper Dargo Rd and Downey Rd).

It was at Matheson Flat that Oliver Smith was living and gold mining, I believe with his two sons Tom and Jack. It is generally believed Oliver came to Australia with two sons circa 1858 which is three years before the American civil war started.  In (John J Ricketts) book “Victoria’s Wonnangatta Murders” we read Oliver was born in Kentucky in 1824. Many stories about Oliver and his coming to Australia abound, but at this juncture I have nothing to confirm anything about Oliver prior to him being at Matheson Flat, not even a shipping record of when he arrived in Australia, with whom, or in what year. It appears from the various books I have read he was at Matheson Flat circa 1860.

Circa 1862/1863 Ellen left George Hayes and took up with Oliver Smith. Circa 1863 / 65 Ellens daughter Mary disappears. The rumors in the area at the time were that Ellen’s estranged husband George Hayes had come back and taken his daughter whilst Ellen was away. Mary was never heard of again. Ellen had her first child with Oliver in 1864, a boy they named Oliver Smith junior,  then in 1865 another boy they named William.

Late 1866 or early 1867 Oliver, Ellen and the children shifted onto the Wonnangatta Station. Oliver was the fourth to hold the Wonnangatta lease, but he was the first to live there and work it. They were only there a short time when on the 8th June 1867 Ellen gave birth in at the Station to another boy they named Thomas, who was the very first non-indigenous baby to be born in the Station.

Moving to Wonnangatta

Harry was only around seven years old when they shifted into Wonnangatta, but he had his brothers and Oliver’s two boys  for company, and the older ones would always have their chores to do and this would have included Harry even if it was only collecting the eggs.

Location of Wonnangatta Station

In March 1868 as  reported in Ian Stapleton’s book “Weather-beaten Wisdom” tragedy struck the family when the two brothers James and Henry (Harry) were playing at pole-vaulting, using long thin saplings as poles. One of these poles snapped and went straight into James’s chest. Oliver managed to get him to the Sale Hospital where he died. His death was around six weeks after the accident and James must have been in terrible pain over this period. He was buried in the Sale Cemetery.

James died as a direct result of the accident, made him become the very first non-indigenous casualty of the Wonnangatta Station.

In 1869 Ellen gave birth in at Wonnangatta Station to yet another boy they named John, but and he was registered,  as illegitimate, so his last name was Hayes. Later in life John adopted Smith as his last name and   was buried in the Dargo Cemetery under the name John Smith.

In 1870 John William Pender Bryce buys into a partnership agreement with Oliver and Bryce’s name appears on the Wonnangatta lease.

1871 Bryce had built a dwelling just above Oliver’s and shifts his family into Wonnangatta. With Bryce was his partner Hannah Owens (nee, Quye) and their three sons and three daughters. We read in Ian Stapleton’s book, that Bryce had decided that the future of the station lay in beef cattle, not the dairy cattle that Oliver had always concentrated on. He wasted no time purchasing a fair sized mob of cattle from NSW and proudly driving them home over the great divide. Pride soon turned to despair however, when the new stock were found to be carrying the deadly pleural pneumonia disease, and the distraught families watched on helplessly as nearly all the beef cattle, along with most of Oliver’s dairy herd were systematically wiped out. It was a major blow, especially for Oliver who had very few resources to fall back on.

Ellen fell pregnant about June of the same year.

Christmas 1871 must have been quite a scene in at Wonnangatta Station and a moment’s respite from all their problems. Between Oliver’s and Bryce’s groups there were about eighteen or more now living at the Station. But another disaster was about to tear their lives apart.

1872Ellen has twin girls to Oliver on or about the 27th February,  1872, Mary and Malinda.
 After giving birth to the twinsEllen dies on the 5th March, 1872
 A week later the twins die,Mary on the 11th March, 1872.
Malinda on the 12th March,1872.
 All three are buried in the Wonnangatta Station private cemetery.

Henry (Harry) was only two months short of his thirteenth birthday. He apparently by this time had no recollection of his birth father, George Hayes ( nor did anyone know where he was ), and had now been living in the Wonnangatta Station for five years and only new Oliver as a father. The Bryce’s had only been there for a year, yet this was long enough for Harry to form a lifelong relationship with the Bryce family, always returning for visits to the Station where his mother was buried.

1872 A couple of months after  Ellen’s death Oliver marries Ellen’s mid-wife Ann Morgan (known as Nancy) on the 25th May. Oliver sells his share of the Wonnangatta Station to William Bryce. Oliver and Annie move away for a while but returned and bought  Denny Connolly’s old Boarding House / pub at Cowa (Approximately 5 KLM North of Dargo) which they kept for the best part of 20 years. Oliver combined this with some gold prospecting. I believe Harry spent most of his teenage years here with Annie and Oliver. The explorer Angus McMillan was the original owner of this property and it was McMillan that erected the first building which he referred to as the smoke house.

Where all the children went after Ellen’s death we do not know. There is talk they stayed on at Wonnangatta for a while, probably being taken care of by Hannah, Bryce’s partner, then when Oliver and Annie were settled after their  marriage they may have gone to  Oliver and  Annie. It must be remembered some of the children were very young (which was the most likely reason for Oliver’s need to marry again so soon after Ellen’s death ) and it is possible they were all  living with Oliver and Annie in the residence beside the Hotel.

 The children were:
John Hayes,2.1/2 years
Thomas Smith,nearly 5 years
William Hayeswould have been around 6
Oliver Smith jnr8 years
Henry (Harry)  Hayes,just  13 years
George Hayes,around  16 years if still alive.

And then there were Oliver’s two boys Tom and Jack who came from America with him.

It was in the residence beside the pub I believe Oliver Smith lived with Annie and the children. Oliver combined the pub with some gold prospecting and apparently encouraged Harry to also do some prospecting.

1873 Oliver Smith Senior purchased 20 acres ( Lot 36 ) on the Wonnangatta River at Crooked River (West of Kingwill Bridge). Oliver only held this property for seventeen months before selling it.

1873 In (John J Rickett’s) book “Victoria’s Wonnangatta Murders” we are informed that on the 25th & 26th March Harry registered a couple of gold claims under the name of Henry Smith. These claims probably produced nothing because Harry later took a job working on the wharves in Sale. After this he went into a partnership with Billy Goss building footpaths in the main street of Bairnsdale.

At some time Harry went to Sale and saw a solicitor Mr George Henry Wise and changed  his name by deed poll from Henry Hayes to Harry Smith, however a registration of this name change is not recorded by Births Deaths & Marriages who hold all the records . Harry on his death certificate is listed as Henry Smith. The very first land license’s Harry applied for were in 1884, and by then he was using the name Henry Smith.

1880. It was c1880/1884 Harry returned to the Dargo / Eaglevale area.

1885. In 1884 Constantine Holme applied for a license for three allotments at Eaglevale, Lot 4, 34 acres, Lot 4A, 63 acres, and Lot 5, 43 acres. He was granted a License for these Allotments on the 1st August, 1885. At the time of his application Holme had already held Lot 1,  139 acres at Eaglevale since c 1876. Holme’s also acquired Lot 12, 59 acres and a 25000 acre pasture license. At a guess this License may be the area named after him’ i.e., HOLME’S PLAIN situated on the North West corner of the Snowy Plains Arbuckle Junction.

Around the same time in 1884 Henry Smith applied for a License for two allotments on the Wonnangatta River at Eaglevale several miles upstream of the land Holme was applying for. These were Lot 2, 38 acres and Lot 3, 89 acres. The license’s were granted for Lot 2 on the 1st July 1885 and Lot 3 on the 1st September 1885. This area is known today as Happy Valley.

It was on allotment 2, c 1885 that Harry built his cabin. It is most probable Oliver Smith and Harry’s brothers assisted Harry in the construction of this cabin. Harry lived on this property in the cabin he built until his death sixty years later.

Harry occasionally worked for Holme, eg c 1890 Harry’s fences were destroyed by fire and he went to work for Constantine Holme in order to raise money to replace his fencing.

1885 Harry’s half brother William Smith was working in the tunnels of the Hope G.M. Co’s mine at Millchester, Charters Towers, QLD when on the 13th  January rock fell out of the roof and severed William’s right leg below the knee. He was immediately taken to hospital. It was reported he smoked a pipe all the way betraying no sign of the pain he was in. The doctor amputated more of Williams leg but he died some days later in hospital on the 18th January 1885, just 21 years of age. He is buried in the Charters Towers Pioneer Cemetery.

1891,  5th October Oliver Smith Snr sells his properties in Cowa to Oliver Jnr. Presumably it would have been around this time Oliver Snr returned to America, if that’s where he went.

1899  Harry was granted a further License for Allotment 15, Section 15, 30 acres on the 1st June 1899.

1901  Harry takes another license this time for Allotment 13, Section 15,  298 acres.

1902 William Bryce of Wonnangatta Station dies. For the sake of their mother who did not want to leave the Station some of the family  continued to work it.

1905  On the 7th February all the land Harry leased he purchased from the Crown, so it became his own.

1912 Constantine Holme died in SALE on the 30th November 1912 aged 82. He left his entire estate and  land to his nephew Sydney Cuthbert Ede who by then was residing at Eaglevale Station.

1913 Harry’s half brother Oliver Smith jnr who was in unbearable pain from throat cancer committed suicide and was buried in Dargo.  All of Oliver Jnr’s land in Cowa went to his brother John Smith.

1914 The mother Hannah Bryce of Wonnangatta Station dies. Twelve months later the family sell out of Wonnangatta Station after thirty  three years of occupation.

1915, April 13th   Geoffrey Ritchie and Arthur Phillips buy the Station from the Bryce’s. They employ Jim Barclay as a live in manager at Wonnangatta Station.

Harry Smith continues his association with Wonnangatta Station and becomes good friends with Jim Barclay. Every couple of weeks Harry picked up Jim’s mail in Talbotville and would then ride into Wonnangatta and deliver Jim his mail and probably any supplies Jim may have asked for. Harry would stay for a night or more.

Late in 1917 Barclay employs John Bamford as a cook and useful.

1918, around late January or February Barclay and Bamford are murdered, Barclay in at the Station and Bamford at Howitt Hut up on the Howitt High Plains.

Harry's hut around 1940
Harry’s hut around 1940

It was Harry after his second visit in 1918 to the Station reported to Phillips that something is wrong in the Station and that the two men appear to be missing. After an organized search which included Harry Smith, Barclays dog led them to Jim’s body on the 25th February, however Bamford’s body was not discovered until 7th November of the same year after another organized search. The murders have never been solved. Jim Barclay was a widower and left behind a young son (Jim junior) who was staying with relatives in Vermont, Melbourne. Barclay was buried in Hastings and Bamford in Dargo.

1928 Harry’s half brother John Smith dies of stomach cancer and is buried in Dargo. John left all of his extensive property holdings in Cowa to his half brother Henry (Harry).

1929 Harry’s half brother Thomas Smith died of cardiac failure and is buried in Sale. Thomas’s meager assets, which included one block of land in Cowa went to Harry who was now the sole family survivor.

1932 A young 21 year old James Barclay  ( the son of the murdered Wonnangatta Station manager Jim Barclay) moved in with Harry and lived with Harry until Harry’s  death 13 years later.

1945 Harry Smith dies on the 19th September aged 86 years. Harry wrote his Will in 1928 so whether it was Harry’s intention or not he had not updated his Will since young Jim had come to live with him in 1932, so when Harry died his entire estate  was left to Jim Barclay Seniors  sister, Mary Campbell and her daughter Daisy.  In property alone the Eaglevale property consisted of four blocks totaling 463 acres and spanning both sides of the Wonnangatta River . Harry also owned land in Cowa just outside Dargo. This land was spread over 15 Titles  and 695 acres. One of the Titles was for the block on which McMillans Smoke House was on. Harry had inherited the Cowa blocks from his half brothers John and Thomas. John had inherited the Cowa land from his brother Oliver Jnr.

When Harry took ill Arthur Guy took Harry by horse and wagon to Gibb’s farm, from here Andy Fischer took Harry by car  to the Sale Hospital where Harry died. The car trip itself was not without drama as is explained in (John J Ricketts book) “Victoria’s Wonnangatta Murders”. Harry was buried on the 20th September,1945.  He is buried in the Sale cemetery,  Allotment 11, Section M. Plan 11.    The Priest was Father Daley.

There had never been a head stone or any marker on Harry’s grave so the Worsley brothers and Brian Johnson got a rock beside the Wonnangatta River near Harry’s Hut, took it to Sale and had it placed on Harry’s grave along with a Brass Plaque. Unfortunately they did not have a birth certificate at the time they have the birth era as c1847 when in fact Harry was born in 1859.

Later:    Mollie Campbell sold the Eaglevale property to Jim Barclay Junior who had been living there and working the property with Harry since 1932.

1956  Jim Barclay sells the property to Bruce Dungey (in who’s family the property still remains).

1989 Jim Worsley and (John J Ricketts) recruit Jims  brothers and close friends in a project to restore Harry’s cabin to its former glory with the blessing of the property owner Bruce Dungey.

1991  On the 9th June Queens Birthday weekend the cabin was re-opened in an official ceremony.

Harry built his cabin at Happy Valley (Eaglevale) circa 1885 and was not as alone in life as we may have previously thought because his step brothers Oliver jnr, Thomas and John all lived around Dargo until their deaths.  Oliver jnr died in 1913, John in 1928 and Thomas in 1929. Where George and William were we do not know, and then there were Oliver’s boys Tom and Jack who were also possibly still in the area. Constantine Holme who owned Eaglevale Station was only a few miles away, then after Constantine’s retirement his nephew Sydney Ede inherited the Eaglevale Station. In 1932 young Jim Barclay came to live with Harry. So with all of Harry’s extended family, his friendship with the Bryce’s and Jim Barclay snr, Holme and Ede, bush walkers that called in on Harry and many other friends (all who held Harry in high esteem) Harry had had a lot in his life.

Ellen Hayes (nee Toole) father Bernard Toole was a school master so we suspect Ellen got quite a good education and hence Harry and his siblings from Ellen, their mother. Harry had spent a year or less with Hannah Bryce in at Wonnangatta before his mother died and Harry was moved away from the Station so it is doubtful Hannah had any real role in Harrys education. After Ellen’s death Oliver within a few months married Ann Morgan, a midwife who we presume would also have had a reasonable education. Harry we believe spent his teenage years with his brothers and half brothers living with Annie at the old Boarding House / Pub where it was most likely Harr’s education was furthered. The boys must have thought a lot of Annie because she gave up her life to look after them.

A point of interest

The mountain range behind Harry’s hut is known as the Snowy Bluff. EUGENE von GUERARD painted this range in 1864 from a point not far from Harry’s. Google “snowy bluff painting” and you can view the painting. The painting hangs in the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne.

Oliver Smith’s Wonnangatta House

There have been many discussions and on site searches for the site of Oliver Smiths house, the first of the buildings in Wonnangatta Station. Oliver’s house was supposedly along the Conglomerate Creek half a mile from the Wonnangatta river, and so was Bryce’s’ so they could have been very near each other.

If you look at the book “The Wonnangatta Mystery” by Keith Leydon and Michael Ray, on page 7 there is a photograph of the Station with Bryce’s house with the bright roof in the centre a little to the right. If you look to the left and slightly below Bryce’s you will see two roof lines on the border of the trees. These buildings are also shown on page 58 in the artist’s sketch of the murder scene. The photograph is also in Harry Stephenson’s book “Cattlemen and Huts of the High Plains”. The large building was the barn and behind it was the blacksmiths shop. Some detail of these buildings is provided in Wally Mortimer’s book “The History of the Wonnangatta Station”. The position of the barn (as shown in the photograph) was to the south, behind Bryce’s, and I estimate from the photo about 50 to 80 metres and a little to the left toward the Conglomerate Creek. The question is did Smith or Bryce build the barn. Smith had been in the Station for five or so years before Bryce joined him, so surely Smith would have needed a barn before Bryce arrived.

When Oliver and Ellen moved into the Wonnangatta Station there was quite a few of them, there was Oliver and Ellen, George Hayes 12, James Hayes  11, Henry Hayes 9,  Oliver Jnr  4, William 3, and Ellen  was pregnant and about to give birth to Thomas in at the Station.  And then perhaps there was Oliver’s two boys Tom and Jack. That would make 8 children and 2 adults, so Smith would have needed a large house, kitchen and laundry. One building may not have been enough, perhaps there was two or three, so where was Smiths place.

In the centre top of the photograph you can see three pine trees side by side. This is the Wonnangatta private cemetery where Ellen and her two baby girls are buried.

One Reply to “A Wonnangatta Pioneer”

  1. There is a very clear copy of the photograph on the Mountain Cattlemen Association of Victoria web site. They have a slide show of photographs on each page of the website and the Wonnangatta photograph is on the “News” page.

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