Saturday, June 4, 2011


John and Sarah Mawbey
John Thomas Mawbey had run a wood store in Mudgee for six years before taking up a selection of farming land at Breelong in 1883.
He had met Sarah Clarke there and married her in the local Anglican church in 1875.
Coincidentally this was the same year Jimmy Governor, the Mawbey family's future nemesis, was born further north near Denison Town.
John had been born at Castle Hill, a farming area on the north-western outskirts of Sydney, in 1849.
Sarah had been born at Castlereagh on the Nepean/Hawkesbury Rivers, another farming district about twice the distance north-west of Sydney as Castle Hill, in 1856.
John and Sarah were what had been known in the early days of the convict colony as 'currency' lads and lasses in that they were the first generation of their families to be born in Australia.
Both had English parents.
John's were George Mawbey and Ann Williams and Sarah's were Robert Clarke and Elizabeth Smith.
Gold was discovered in the Mudgee area in 1851, when John Mawbey was two, and it is said his parents moved there because of that.
But none of his five siblings born between 1851 and 1862 are registered as being born there.
So how and when he arrived in Mudgee is still a mystery.
What is known is that in 1878, three years after his marriage, he began leasing a wood store in Market Lane.
His surname is recorded in the rate books as 'Mowby'.
He operated this business for six years, then moved with his family his farm at Breelong on the Castlereagh River.
John and Sarah's first child, John Thomas Jnr, was born in Mudgee in 1880.
The next, Reginald, was born there in 1882 and Grace, the first of their two daughters, in 1884.
Their other six children, five boys and one girl, were born at Breelong with their births registered at Coonamble.
The youngest child, Garnet, was born in 1896.
When Jimmy Governor, his wife Ethel and their eight-month-old son, Sidney, arrived at Breelong in January 1900, the Mawbey family had just moved into their new house.
Until then they had been living in an old inn about a mile away.
Mr Mawbey, two of his sons, and a brother of his wife were sleeping over there on the night of the murders.
One of the neighbouring farmers had applied to have a school established in the area in 1884, around the time the Mawbeys moved there.
Eight years later, in 1892, the local families had finally been sent a teacher, but she taught 'house to house', not in an actual school.
Four of these teachers, all female, boarded with the Mawbeys, including the last one, Helen Kerz, who was murdered by Jimmy Governor.
The parents had built a schoolhouse in 1893, but it had been rejected by the Department of Public Instruction.
It had been upgraded with the addition of a verandah and a 400 gallon water tank which hopefully would gain it approval just before the murders.
So it would appear that the Mawbey family were very busy.
Sarah was running a household consisting of a husband, nine children ranging in age from 21 to 4, three relatives (her younger sister who she was bringing up after their mother died, a brother and her husband's nephew) plus a boarder (the schoolteacher).
She had to prepare food, cook, wash clothes, do the shopping, clean the house - all without the benefit of today's modern conveniences.
Sarah also appears to have been in charge of paying the bills and keeping the family's accounts.
Then there were other everyday hassles a wife and mother, daughter, sister and aunt had to deal with like when the children got sick, and when her widowed father drowned in the river while he was staying with her.
The availability of Ethel Governor to assist her with the housework three days a week must have been very welcome.
It has been said that Ethel was not paid for this work, but I have seen nothing official either way to confirm or deny this.
I would have thought it was up to her and Jimmy to negotiate a wage for this work.
They were in a superior negotiating position because Mrs Mawbey very much needed domestic help.
John Mawbey would have had his work cut out running the farm.
Labour was hard to get, and most of his sons were still too young to do farm work, so he would have had to do the bulk of it.
I am not sure what crops he was growing, but I think it was wheat.
It has been said that John Mawbey held a publican's licence for the old Breelong Inn where his family originally lived, but I have not been able to find any evidence of that.
He was, however, the receiving officer for the post office at the inn which was established there in 1894.
This meant having to get the mail ready every Sunday to go to the nearby town of Mendoran.
He also appears to have had a store in one of the rooms of the inn.
The reason he was sleeping at the inn on the night of the murders, and not in the family home, was that he wanted to get up early the next morning, a Saturday, to start bagging the wheat.
The only workers he had to assist him were members of his family - sons Reginald, 18, Percy 14, Sydney, 13 and brother-in-law, Fred Clarke, 28.
His eldest son, John Jnr, 20, would have been there too, but he had allowed him to go to Sydney to enlist in the army to go to the Boer War.
It seems to me that both Sarah and John Mawbey would have been far too busy with their own affairs to have any inkling or understanding of what was going on in the minds of Jimmy and Ethel Governor and their four Aboriginal visitors at their camp some three and a half miles away.