On this day …….. 27th September 1851

Sir Thomas Mitchell was Surveyor-General of New South Wales and the explorer who discovered “Australia Felix”, or “Happy Australia”, which was the rich land of western Victoria. As well as being well-known for his immense contribution to exploration, Mitchell is less-known for fighting the last known duel in Australia. It was fought between Mitchell and one of New England’s well-known early settlers, Sir Stuart Alexander Donaldson. The duel occurred on 27 September 1851 in Centennial Park, Sydney, and it is believed to have been over land – Tenterfield Station – which was a crown grant to Donaldson. As Surveyor-General, Mitchell had gazetted a town to be built on part of Donaldson’s Tenterfield Station. The enraged Donaldson challenged Mitchell to a duel. Three shots were fired, and the last one of Mitchell’s found its mark, blowing Donaldson’s hat off. Donaldson was not injured, and later went on to become the first Premier of New South Wales.


On this day …….. 27th September 1990

The town of Gundagai is located on the Murrumbidgee River 390 km south-west of Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. Australian explorer Hamilton Hume, together with immigrant William Hovell, were the first Europeans to visit when they passed through the area in 1824, and their expedition subsequently opened up the area for farming land. Explorer Charles Sturt identified a spot near Gundagai as the best crossing point of the river for coaches and drovers. A settlement gradually grew up along the Murrumbidgee River at the river crossing, and by 1852, there were around 300 people living along the river flats. The flats had already shown they were prone to flooding, but people ignored the warnings and stayed in close proximity to the water. Torrential rain had been falling in the Snowy Mountains for most of the month of June 1852. Despite the rising river, many people chose to wait out the floods in the lofts of their houses rather than evacuate, as they were familiar with floods. However, in the early hours of 25 June 1852, a torrent swept down the Murrumbidgee valley. Houses collapsed and people were swept away. A punt sent out to rescue people capsized, its occupants thrown into the raging waters. Two Aborigines, Yarri and Jackey Jackey, showed great courage and heroism as they took their canoes out into the torrent to rescue people stranded in trees and the water. Although they rescued 49, another 89 were killed in the Gundagai flood. After another, higher flood in 1853, the town was relocated at its current site on the hill, Mount Parnassus, above the river. Yarri, who led the rescue, has been honoured through the years with various small monuments around the town. On 27 September 1990, NSW Premier Nick Greiner formally unveiled a headstone for Yarri’s grave, which had lain unmarked for a century.


On this day …….. 26th September 2003

On the 26th September 2003, stationmaster Chris Gallagher was waiting fir the 3:12 pm train at Dunmore railway station, New South Wales, when a 50cm carp landed beside him. He believed it had been snatched from near by Swamp Road Lake by a sea eagle.


On this day …….. 26th September 1803

Joseph Samuel was an Englishman legendary for the manner in which he survived execution. Convicted for robbery in 1795, he was sentenced in 1801 to transportation to Australia, one of 297 convicted felons aboard the vessels Nile, Canada and Minorca. Security in the early penal settlements of New South Wales was reinforced by the isolation of the colony: guards trusted the Australian wilderness to kill any convicts who attempted to escape. Samuel succeeded in escaping and, with a gang, robbed the home of a wealthy woman, and in the process, a policeman named Joseph Luker, who was guarding her home, was murdered. The gang was hunted down and quickly captured, and during the trial, the woman recognised Joseph Samuel as one of the culprits. He confessed to robbing her home, but denied having murdered the policeman. The other members of the gang, including the leader, were acquitted due to lack of evidence, but because the woman identified Samuel, he was convicted and sentenced to death by hanging. On 26 September 1803, Samuel and another criminal, convicted of another crime and not a member of the same gang, were driven in a cart to Parramatta, where hundreds of people had gathered to watch the execution. Nooses were fastened securely around their necks from the gallows and after they were allowed to pray with a priest, the cart was driven away. This was the common method of hanging of the day, and caused death by slow strangulation. Not until the latter half of the 19th century did the British employ the drop method, which breaks the neck. The ropes used were made of five cords of hemp, which enabled one to hold 1,000 lb (~450 kg), for up to five minutes without breaking, more than sufficient for human executions. The other criminal ultimately died by strangulation, but Samuel’s rope snapped and he dropped to his feet, sprained an ankle and collapsed. The executioner hastily readied another rope, also five-hemp, and placed it around Samuel’s neck, forced him onto the same cart, and drove the cart away again. The other criminal was still kicking weakly at this point. When the cart drove out from under him, Samuel fell again, and the noose slipped off his neck, whereupon his boots touched the ground. The executioner was sure to have fastened the noose securely around his neck, and as he stood Samuel up to try again, the crowd had become boisterous, calling for Samuel to be freed. The executioner very quickly readied another five-hemp rope, ordered the cart driven back, forced Samuel onto it, fastened the noose around his neck, secured it very carefully and tightly, and then ordered the cart driven away. The rope snapped, and Samuel dropped to the ground and stumbled over, trying to avoid landing on his sprained ankle. Now the crowd stood around in an uproar, and another policeman, watching on horseback, ordered the execution delayed momentarily, while he rode away to find the governor. The governor was summoned to the scene and upon inspection of the ropes, which showed no evidence of having been cut, and the other criminal, who was successfully executed with an identical rope, the governor and the entire crowd agreed that it was a sign from God that Joseph Samuel had not committed any crime deserving of execution and his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment instead. Parramatta’s town doctor tended to his sprained ankle.


On this day …….. 23rd September 1923

Quite a stir was created at the Kew Asylum when it became known that Charles Joseph Potter, alias “William M. Maxted, a criminal lunatic, had escaped from the institution. Potter, who has been convicted in New Zealand and New South Wales, was serving a sentence of two years’ imprisonment for an offence at the Garden, Vale railway station, and had been placed in the refractory ward. He lifted himself to the unbarred window, and eluding, the warder patrols, soon made his escape. The police were informed at a later hour, and a search was made without result, Potter, who is 28 years of age and of medium build, is believed to be wearing; a light grey cap and a dark overcoat. ‘He has a scar on the left ear.


On this day …….. 17th September 1853

In 1828-29, Captain Charles Sturt became the first explorer to follow the course of the Murray River down to its mouth at Lake Alexandrina in South Australia. In doing so, he opened up the possibilities for a new means of transporting goods and passengers through inland NSW to the southern coast. In 1851, the South Australian Government offered 2,000 pounds reward to the first two steamships to reach the junction of the Murray and Darling Rivers. 31-year-old Scottish shipbuilder, Francis Cadell, had the 32m iron paddlesteamer, ‘Lady Augusta’, built in Sydney with 2x20hp steam engines. He departed Goolwa on 25 August 1853, travelling 2,200 km upstream, reaching Swan Hill on 17 September 1853. Cadell’s competitor, William Randell, built his own 17m paddlesteamer ‘Mary Ann’ at Gumeracha and Mannum, with a single 8hp engine and a square boiler. Randell reached Swan Hill several hours behind Cadell, after the two had raced neck-and-neck most of the way. Cadell went on to carry cargo mostly along the Murray and Murrumbidgee Rivers; the small Murray River town of Cadell in South Australia now bears his name. Randell plied his trade along the Murray-Darling system. The town of Mannum grew up around his boat-yards and docks at his Reedy Creek station.


On this day …….. 12th September 1854

With the discovery of gold in Victoria in 1851 Melbourne became the richest city in the world. With this Victoria became the first Australian state to have a completed railway line. Although South Australia had begun operations of horse-drawn trains on 18 May 1854 between Goolwa and Port Elliot, mechanical railways were first established in Victoria in 1854, with work on the line commencing in March 1853. At first, trains were ordered from Robert Stephenson and Company of the United Kingdom, but shipping delays meant that the first trains had to be built locally. Robertson, Martin and Smith built Australia’s first steam locomotive in ten weeks at a cost of £2700. The first steam train in Australia, consisting of two first-class carriages and one second-class carriage, made its maiden voyage on 12 September 1854. It ran along the four kilometre track from Flinders Street to Sandridge, now Port Melbourne, a ten-minute journey. Aboard the first train were Lieutenant-Governor Sir Charles Hotham and Lady Hotham. Upon arriving at its destination at Station Pier, the train was met with gun-salutes by the warships HMS Electra and HMS Fantome. The following year, the locomotives ordered from the UK arrived, and were named Melbourne, Sandridge, Victoria and Yarra.


On this day …….. 11th September 1863

Bushranger Captain Thunderbolt was born Frederick Ward at Wilberforce near Windsor, NSW, in 1836. As an excellent horseman, his specialty was horse stealing. For this, he was sentenced in 1856 to ten years on Cockatoo Island in Sydney Harbour. On 1 July 1860, Ward was released on a ticket-of-leave to work on a farm at Mudgee. While he was on ticket-of-leave, he returned to horse-stealing, and was again sentenced to Cockatoo Island. Conditions in the gaol were harsh, and he endured solitary confinement a number of times. On the night of 11 September 1863, he and another inmate escaped from the supposedly escape-proof prison by swimming to the mainland. After his escape, Ward embarked on a life of bushranging, under the name of Captain Thunderbolt. Much of his bushranging was done around the small NSW country town of Uralla. A rock originally known as “Split Rock” became known as “Thunderbolt’s Rock”. After a six-year reign as a “gentleman bushranger”, Thunderbolt was shot dead by Constable Alexander Walker in May 1870.


On this day …….. 10th September 1906

The first petrol-driven car to be manufactured in Australia is believed to have been produced by Harry A Tarrant in 1897. After modifications and improvements, Tarrant produced a second vehicle in 1901, which he named the Tarrant. This was followed by a number of improved designs, including the first fully enclosed body made in Australia, and later models included locally designed and manufactured engines, gearboxes and rear axles. Other vehicles began to be imported from 1900, when a Benz No 1 Ideal arrived in Sydney. Australians gradually embraced the concept of the motor car and the horseless carriage gained in popularity. The first motor car and driving licence were issued in Adelaide on 10 September 1906. The recipient was Dr William Arthur Hargreaves, a chemist and government analyst, born on 29 October 1866 at Ipswich, Queensland. Hargreaves had moved to South Australia in 1899. Always interested in fuel sources, Hargreaves studied the problem of alternative fuels during both world wars and drove his car on a mixture of molasses and petrol at the end of World War I. Licence plates and drivers licences were introduced in Victoria and New South Wales in 1910.


On this day …….. 26th September 1855

Up until the mid-1800s, the horse and carriage remained the major means of transporting goods and people long distances overland. Victoria was the first colony to build a railway line, which ran from Melbourne’s Flinders Street Station and Port Melbourne, then called Sandridge. The line was opened on 12 September 1854. In 1849, the Sydney Railway Company started building the first railway track in New South Wales. It ran between Sydney and Parramatta, for a distance of 22 km. The construction suffered some setbacks, in particular financial difficulty, and was put on hold until taken over by the New South Wales colonial government. The line finally opened on 26 September 1855.


On this day …….. 5th September 1994

John Newman was born John Naumenko on 8 December 1946 to Austrian and Yugoslavian parents. He already had a strong history of involvement in the Australian Labor Party and the union movement by the time he opted to change his surname by deed poll to Newman in 1972. From 1970 to 1986, he was a State union organiser with the Federated Clerks Union, and he undertook post-graduate studies in industrial law at the University of Sydney, along with numerous Trade Union Training Authority education programs. Newman first represented Fairfield Council in 1977, a position he retained until 1986. He was Deputy Mayor in 1985–86 and also served as Acting Mayor in 1986. A by-election in the seat of Cabramatta saw Newman elected to the Legislative Assembly of New South Wales early in February 1986. Here, in an electorate populated by a wide range of southeast Asians, and in which there were underlying racial tensions, Newman undertook a protracted campaign to fight Asian organised crime and corruption: a fight for which he would pay the ultimate price. At around 9:30pm on 5 September 1994, Newman was shot twice in the driveway of his home. This was Australia’s first political murder. It was four years before an arrest was made. In 2001, after three earlier trials, two of which were aborted and another which ended in a hung jury, former Fairfield City Councillor and local club owner, Phuong Ngo, who had a history of conflict with Newman, was convicted of the assassination.


On this day …….. 4th September 1922

The ‘people’s poet’, Henry Lawson, was given a State Funeral at St Andrew’s Cathedral, Sydney, on 4 September, 1922. Thousands watched the funeral leave for Waverley Cemetery. As the coffin was born from the Cathedral, an incident marking the popularity of the deceased attracted the attention of many members of the congregation. A typical countryman, tall, sinewy, and brown, stood like a gaunt statue as the coffin was borne towards the northern door. For a moment he wavered, and then burst into tears that flowed down his rugged cheeks – ‘the grief that must have way’.