Sunday, August 21, 2011

Gounyan Creek Murrumbateman

Yesterday (Saturday here) I drove out to an area at Gounyan Road near Murrumbateman looking for the remnants of an early cemetery of the settlers in the Gounyan Road area near Murrumbateman. I only had a very loose verbal description of its (possible) location.

Gounyan Creek was settled by a notorious female ex-convict by the name of "Granny Davis" and was the matriarch of a large Davis family clan in this area. Mary Davis was the first to receive a land grant in this area. She became a famous figure in the district and is buried in the Gounyan cemetery near her original land. Mary lived for over a hundred years and had many children.

Her descendants still live in the region.

Mary Ann Lawrence Davis (nee Butt) (1786-1889) was born in Dorcetshire, England and arrived in Sydney, NSW on the Broxbornbury in July 1814. Mary married George Davis and in 1828 travelled with him from Sydney to settle at ‘Gounyan’ in the Yass district, NSW. A street name in the Canberra suburb of Gunghalin was named after her in a sub-division in 2003 (Mary Anne Davis Lane)

A homestead, Benview, part of a larger property named Spring Flat, was owned by Samuel Davis in the 1880's. Samuel was a descendant of George and Mary Davis, also known as Granny Davis. Mary was transported to Australia in 1814 for stealing a gold watch. George was also transported to Australia in 1813, for a failed bid to help eight Frenchman escape from England. Mary and her husband ran a licensed inn on their property, which they called the ‘The Sawyers' Arms’. Mary had a reputation for being a shrewd, active businesswoman. Their inn provided a focal point for social activity and entertainment for the early pioneers in the district, as well as hospitality to travellers. (It was also, undoubtedly, a great source of "information" for Mary Davis, in a time when 'information was scarce and valued like gold!)

It is not known when George Davis died, however, there is a record of probate for  Mr George Davis of Murrumbateman Creek near Yass, deceased, probate to Mary Davis Murrumbateman Creek, widow and George Davis Jnr, Farmer. (Yass Courier 4.1.1868.) so it is highly probable that Mary "Granny" Davis outlived her husband George. Mary became known as ‘Granny Davis’ in her later life and was somewhat a legend in the Yass district.

Stories abound about Granny Davis, who was originally granted 20 acres of land in the Gounyan Creek area but soon turned that into over 2,000 acres by simply taking possession of it - a common practice of the time, referred to as "squatting". (If one cleared and fenced unused/unclaimed property, placed livestock on it and maintained it for a year, then they could apply to a magistrate or a miltary commander of the region for 'ownership' of that land a year later.) Mary Davis was assigned convicts as indentured workers from the government to work her grazing property. This was at a time when transportation was at its end and Sydney was full of men who were not gainfully employed. They were assigned to her as 'workers' but were not 'Free Men'.

Stories abound that Mary and George left workers on vacant land with a flock of sheep in summer, with some basic supplies and no shelter (they were told to build their own shelter from what was at hand), and telling them that she would be back to check on them come spring and if the flock had not grown they would be in for a flogging. (This is a 'hearsay comment' that was known to have been practiced by other landholders of the period and may have just been 'attributed' to the Davis's by association. The early days of settling a land grant were, however, 'no picnic' and undoubtedly some tough times were had by all.)

Another story attributed to the Gounyan Davis family was that Granny Davis was not one for flogging her own workers. She would give them three days supplies and tell them to walk to her friend "John" at Queanbeyan who was an  established innkeeper (some 40 miles away) with a note telling him to give them a good flogging and send them back. She twas said to threaten them by saying she expected them back within the three days or she would send the troops to find them as 'absconders'!

These stories are commonly associated with early settlers and be they fact or mere conjecture associated with envy is , factually, hard to establish. It is known, however, that landowners preferred to handle their own discipline rather than rely upon the magistrates, constabulary or military - far quicker and more effective a measure.

Granny Davis also (reputedly) did not like the local natives who she believed were stealing from her flocks so she would leave loaves of bread along the creek bank for them to eat - then when they were used to taking and eating it she would put out loaves laced with arsenic. To this day there remains 'bad blood' between the descendants of the local Ngunnawahl tribe and any locals called Davis. Some members of the local Ngunnawahl peoples will still have nothing to do with an Davis or any business associated with Davis family members and I have heard some harsh criticisms of Davis family members from a few Ngunnawahl descendants.

I did mot manage to locate the burial site - there was a lot of construction occurring with the Gounyan Curves by-pass on the Barton Highway and much access was barred by the construction company - but here are a few images of Gounyan Creek, so typical of the waterways in this area that were often prospected for 'placer gold'.

I returned to Yass and spent the rest of the day photographing the recently renovated St Clements Anglican Church and the remains of its now disused church grave yard. I'll put those up in another post.


Sharon said...

That's some history on Granny Davis! I don't believe I would have liked to meet up with her or her boyfriend, John!

Interesting post!

SANDRA said...

Hi JohnD, I am related to Mary A Davis by marriage and, to add her to my Family History, found out about her from the Davis Family at Cootamundra and on the Internet. The Davis' story did not include her flogging of convicts, poisoning Kurris or her boyfriend, "Johnny"! Can I add those bits, very briefly because of lack of space, and its rearrangement to fit it in? SANDRA

JohnD said...

Sandra, what I post on here is for public use - I only request 'accurate quotation' of my posts. The source of most of my information about Granny Davis comes from the oral history of local members of the ngunnawahl people, particularly from their members in the local Bell family. In truth and as I have stated, Granny Davis never is reported to have flogged convicts but merely to arrange for this to be done.

The roadworks at Gounyan are all but completed and I hope to return to that area and source the local cemetery which I have since been informed is just behind the existing site sheds and offices of the construction company - BMD Constructions. I hope it has not been damaged in the construction of the roadworks or associated activities.