Piecing Together a Fragmented Jigsaw

Late in life, in a letter to a newly discovered cousin, the only cousin she had ever known, my mother expressed the pain of her reality; of never having enjoyed the benefits of having a close extended family or of knowing who she was. As the youngest of four, I lived at home with her unbridled grief. Now, late in life, I find myself still wrestling with the ghost of her past, a reality which I share by default.

I never knew my grandparents, I never had a connection with uncles or aunts and there were no joyous family gatherings with cousins. It was not until the bicentenary in 1988 that I discovered that my great-grandfather was a prominent Queensland surveyor who, it turned out, was very handy with words. I made the effort to pour through his writings and I did document quite a bit of it online. Weathering the storms of life led to me shelving the material in a box which I faithfully carried with me as I moved to reinvent myself and start over again.

Over the past four years, I have undertaken a Masters of Social Work and I am now graduating. Essays that explored Indigenous trauma trails served to reinforce the impact that colonisation had not only on the Indigenous inhabitants but also on the people who were forcibly bought to Australia as convicts or who came as free settlers, seeking a better life.

My ancestors came as convicts and free settlers and with my son now living in Germany I have some understanding of the sense of separation they felt! Given my mother’s legacy, it is no coincidence that late in life I should determine drink from Mimir’s Well of Remembrance (DNA reveals Nordic strands) in order to learn more about my ancestral past.

What is perhaps most surprising is that I have now made a connection with a paternal second cousin whose mother remembers my paternal grandparents and that the wife of a distant relative has made contact because she and a colleague have identified that I am a direct descendant of the prominent Tasmanian colonists they are researching. This combination is enough to propel me to endeavour to piece some of the jigsaw pieces together to form a clearer picture of my ancestral history.

Activities to Connect with Ancestors

Honouring Ancestors

Visit the Isle of Ancestors Tonight

Making Descansos to Honor Ancestors

Breaking Open a Lock

Shedding Light on Aspects of Our Ancestors Lives


Cultural Celebrations to Honour Ancestors

Bon Odori Festival Japan

Lemuralia Banishing Malevolent Spirits

Mah Meri Tribe Ancestral Celebrations

Aboard the Rodney


Convict Ship – Rodney (1)

First voyage
Male convicts on board
Departure Port: Portland (Dorset) Departure Date: 23 Aug 1850
Arrival Port: Hobart Arrival Date: 28 Nov 1850

Convicts landed: 308

Died on board:

Archives Office of Tasmania, Guide to Convict Records by Ship Reference.
Bateson, Charles, The Convict Ships 1787-1868, Brown, Son & Ferguson Ltd 1985.
Broxam, Graeme, Shipping Arrivals and Departures, Tasmania, 1843-1850, Roebuck, 1998, p227.
Phillips, Margaret E., Australian Joint Copying Project, Handbook Part 7, Public Records Office Admiralty Records, National Library of Australia 1993, pp 75-77.
Archives Office of Tasmania, Convict Department, Registers of Convict’s Deaths, 10 Jun 1840-31 Mar 1846, 25 Nov 1845-5 Jul 1874, (Ref: CON 63).

Convicts on board listed by Researchers

ALLEN Charles
BROWN William
EXALL Joseph
ROBSON John Boyd
WADE William
WARE Charles

Non-convicts on board listed by Researchers

MATTHEWS Joseph & Sarah – Military Pensioner
TYNAN Andrew – Military Pensioner
I sit looking at the jigsaw pieces
Studying them
Seeing how they will fit together
To form an impression
make whole
the broken mold
From which I sprang
I am the one
Who carries on the tradition of
Opening Lockfast Places

Surveying Commission 1875


My surveys during 1874 had completed the adjustments of all the country between the Warrego and Paroo rivers, and as I had surveyed all their western tributaries my run adjustments extended to the water shed of the Bulloo. As I had fairly entered upon the survey of the Western districts and could not move my family about with me, I accordingly invested in an allotment at Sandgate, and, building a house thereon, I located them there as my surveys involved absences of twelve months.These arrangements occupied m until April 1875, when, through the occurrence of some departmental changes on the retirement of Mr. A. C. Gregory upon pension from the office of Surveyor-General, Mr F.X. Heeney, the Commissioner of Crown Lands at Charleville, was transferred to the head office as chief clerk in the Survey Department. In the official changes the Chief Commissioner of Crown Lands, Mr W. A. Tully, who was also the Under Secretary for Lands, had vested in him the office of Surveyor-General and accordingly assumed control of the Survey Department und the title of Surveyor-General.

The position of Commission of Crown Lands being vacant at Charleville, it was offered to me, and I forthwith accepted the duties of Commissioner of Crown Lands of the Gregory South and Warrego districts. Once more I gave up my freedom and was forthwith gazetted as a civil servant. In bestowing the appointment, the head of the department acquainted me that he considered the survey of the Western districts was in very good hands, that he had no intention of keeping me in the Western districts for any undue period, and so soon as the surveys of the Warrego district were completed he contemplated my transfre to the Survey Department, and placing me in the position of staff surveyor of the coast.

The goal of all my ambition seemed now in view – the exercise of my profession under the very conditions I could have desired in it branches of geodesy and astronomy. No suspicion even for a moment crossed my mind that was beholding a Will-o’-the-Wisp.

I accordingly took charge of my districts, accompanied by a recording clerk whom I fix up at the lands office, Charleville, where all the lands business of the districts was transacted and entered. Leaving him to receive the correspondence and deal with it I took my departure and commenced operations as surveying commissioner.

I found that the Nebine River adjoining the eastern boundary of the Warrego district had never been surveyed, so to make the district maps complete I entered the Maranoa district and made a traverse of the river accordingly.

The Nebine in 1875 was unoccupied in the upper part of it. The country throughout was principally Mulga forest on each side of the river flats, and exceedingly good pastoral country in favourable seasons, very prolific in fattening grasses; but, as the dry weather set in, the settlers thereon had been dried out, as the ruins and remnants of old sheep yards testified, for few of the waterholes were permanent; but, in the boom of the pastoral enterprise that land recently commenced, as still continued in active progress, the country again received attention, and the tide of occupation set in. Accordingly the surveys I was now making were preparatory to the approaching reoccupation of the country and the conservation of water thereon. Mr Holland occupied Bendeena towards the lower end; below him Mr Heness occupied Bonavona; and adjoining him on the south Mr Tate was in possession of Murro Murra.



“Having made my measurements and adjusted the boundaries to the satisfaction of the runholders I retraced my tracks as far as Eulo, where I turned off to Cunnamulla, en route to this eastern part of the district, where I had some work. I reached Cunnamulla in November 1874 and found it a lively and pleasantly situated township. Being on the intersection of two main lines of traffic – namely the road along the Warrego into New South Wales and the route from St George to Cunnamulla – a fairly constant stream of traffic was passing through consequent upon the travelling of stock, the cartage of wool and the delivery of station supplies, whilst an increasing occupation of the West involved the moving about of all classes and grades, from rich squatter to the swagman and bookmaker. The principal occupants of the place were the Huxley’s (who kept the Hotel, exceedingly well conducted), Fred Ford, a storekeeper, the local blacksmith and their contemporary, the sergeant of police.

Finding some instructions from the Surveyor-General to extend the survey of Cunnamulla I diversified my feature surveying by the marking out of a few sections of town allotments, which occupied me a week, during which time, putting up at Huxley’s Hotel, I met with many denizens of the West, representative men who had won their spurs as pioneers, and whose preliminary exploits have proved the foundation of the Commonwealth in this part of the continent of Australia.

From Cunnamulla I proceeded further east and affected the survey of Noorama and Widgeegoara Creek where stations had been formed by Mr Edward Brown, the Messrs Howie and Mr John Bignell, the latter in Widgeegoara Creek. He was married to the eldest Miss Williams of Coongoola, one of the first white women who entered the Warrego District and certainly one of the bravest. Some years previous to 1874, when just married and residing on the Upper Bulloo at Tintinchilla station, of which her husband was the manager, upon one occasion a blackfellow stealthily crept into the dwelling and was in the act of tomahawking here when she flew out the opposite door, which fortunately happened to be open, and reached within sight of the stockyard, where Mr Bignell and his men were working. The pursurer, unable to catch her, ran off to roam about until the native police terminated his career.

Upon reaching Mr. Bignell’s station on the Widgeegoara I found Mrs Bignell upholding the traditions of pioneering, for she was living in an improvised shelter of a few sheets of corrugated iron. However, she found means, even in those primitive conditions to extend the traditional hospitality of Coongoola.

The whole of the Widgeegoara and Noorama country was like a luxuriant wheat field, covered with Mitchell grass. The Widgeegoara and Noorama creeks are actually billabongs which run out of the Warrego on to an immense southern plain which runs along the boundary of Queensland and New South Wales, extending from the Condemine waters to Grey’s Range on the west of the Bulloo River. It is only in a very high flood like that of 1874 that the Warrego overflows into the Widgeegoara and Noorama so that until dams were made and wells sunk the waterholes would remain for years unfilled. A few hundred yards of the canal cut out of the Warrego into the head of the Widgeegoara billabong would obviate this serious drawback. In fact the billabongs which break away from the Warrego, Paroo and Bulloo might be utilised by the extension of canals to irrigate the immense Southern plain referred to.

These surveys completed my work for 1874. I had located and classified about 200 runs and in the classification had materially augmented the revenue for many of the runs had been held throughout as half unavailable, which meant the rent was only paid on the available portion.

Source: G. C. Watson Building the Commonwealth

A Model Station

“Reaching Calwarro head station I found it in possession of its proprietor, Mr. W. J. Malpas, who renders me valuable assistance. I found in Calwarro water holes a resemblance to an inland lake, the wild fowls were in abundance; pelicans, swans, ducks, in search of prey, as the waterhole abounded with fish of all sizes.

In entering upon the survey of this run I found I had some intricate questions of boundaries to determine between Mr Malpas and his neighbours, Messrs Calder and Stephenson, of Thorlindah as well as Messrs Hood and Torrance, of Currawynya, as their respective runs had been applied for from divergent points, and some clashing had taken place. The country as I advanced increased in interest, as countless billabongs diverged east and west, ten, twenty and thirty miles, forming magnificent lakes in the backcountry some four kilometres in diameter; so that as we camped on the banks whereon the waves were beating we could imagine ourselves upon the seashore. It was plainly evident that the country should never suffer from drought, where Nature had already done so much of the engineering in rendering canalisation and easy process, and the outlet of the lakes practicable sites for effective embankments that would retain a permanent supply of water for many years. For although I was now witnessing the spectacle of well-filled lakes after the good rains of 1874, the same lakes, in protracted drought, had been known to be quite dry, so that horseman could canter through their beds.

I spent an exceedingly pleasant three months in the survey of Calwarro, Currawyn and Thorlindah and the backcountry thereof. Carrawynya had been formed by Messrs Hood and Torrance, of whom Mr Torrance was the leading spirit. He was ably assisted by the young Hoods, nephews of the part-owner, who soon became as proficient as their tutor. Mr Torrance died whilst upon an overland journey, about three months before the run was surveyed, so I missed the pleasure of meeting him. However, I saw his work, which was a marvel of practical forethought – no fortunes frittered away, nor embarrassments engendered by the building of ornamental woolsheds – but awaiting the growth of the clip, he met the necessities of shearing by the expedient of bough sheds.


Early dwellers built shanties for shelter and bough sheds for coolness. A primitive fridge was made by cutting a hessian bag down two sides and inserting two boards. This hung in the bough shed in the breeze and was used to set jellies and to keep honey and syrup away from the “hants”. Even meat and butter were kept in the bough sheds. A canvas water bag hung from one of the boughs and the water tasted good on a hot day. Lamps were made by stuffing a kerosene-soaked rag in a bottle.

Horses, cattle, and sheep or throve exceedingly well, horses especially. Much of the country was polygnum flats, whereon the cattle throve amazingly, whilst on the mulga ridges sheep found herbage and grasses adapted for their sustenance judging by the superior meat and wool grown there.

During my rendezvous at Currawynya the station property, consequent upon the death of Mr Torrance, changed hands being purchased by Mr Wilson, of Victoria, whose sons Hector and Norman duly arrived to take possession in 1874. I found them capable young men of business.

When Hood and Torrance formed the station they improvised such buildings as met their necessities for dwellings, stores and sheds; but within the year preceding my survey they had built a splendid mansion, with lofty rooms and also a detached, composite building for a store, dormitories, harness sheds etc.

Eulo Queen

She won the title of Eulo Queen for her habit of letting opal miners settle their debts with gemstones. After a brilliant and colourful career that made her one of the richest women in Australia, she fell in love with a handsome wastrel and died alone and bankrupt.

GRAY, ISABEL (1851?-1929), hotelier and storekeeper was the daughter of James Richardson, an army captain, and Priscilla Wright. On her first marriage certificate in April 1869 she was recorded as being born eighteen years before in England. When she married again in 1871 she claimed to have been born in Mauritius. Said to have been well educated in Switzerland, she was sent to Australia, probably in 1868. On 29 April 1869 at Warialda, New South Wales, Isabella Richardson married the 32-year-old Scots superintendent, James McIntosh. He died soon after. On 2 March 1871 at Roma, Queensland, Isabel McIntosh, widow and governess, married Richard William Robinson, station-manager of Spring Grove, Surat.

The Robinsons remained in south-west Queensland. By 1886 they were hotel-keepers at Eulo, on the Paroo River, an important staging post between Cunnamulla and Thargomindah and coach junction from Hungerford. Eulo was thus a gathering place for travellers and others. On 1 September 1889 Robinson acquired the freehold and hotel and billiard licences of the Royal Mail Hotel, Eulo. The Robinsons also conducted a store and butcher’s shop.

About this time the legend of the ‘Eulo Queen’ began. Although short, Isabel probably possessed some personal beauty with the physical sumptuousness so esteemed by contemporary males, and a complaisant husband enabled her to operate as a successful courtesan. Her bedroom was a scene of great activity. A stock of liquor there helped her to entertain groups of gentlemen with conversation and gambling. More intimate entertainment was available. Opals were the key to her heart; she was captivated by these fiery gems. She used them as currency and for adornment, including a fantastic girdle of alternate large opals and nautilus shells. Some say she styled herself ‘Queen of Eulo’, but others consider admirers conferred the title. The 1893 financial crisis and the 1896 failure of the Queensland National Bank reduced her wealth.

On 18 October 1902 Robinson died at Cunnamulla. On 31 October 1903 Isabel married, at Eulo, a 29-year-old Tasmanian, Herbert Victor Gray. The bride was about 53 but claimed she was 35. She recouped her fortunes and in 1913 went to Europe where she lived lavishly. On her return she quarrelled with Gray; he beat her, and was charged with assault, convicted and fined £25. Isabel paid the fine but thereafter she denied Gray her bed and board. He joined the Australian Imperial Force but died before going to France.

World War I ended with Eulo’s importance lost to railways and better roads, the opal industry in a deep recession and the young men away on war service, many never to return. The Eulo Queen’s remaining enterprises withered on the vine. By 1926 she was living in poverty at Eulo, the military pension as Gray’s widow her sole support. Later she was admitted to Willowburn Mental Hospital at Toowoomba and died there on 7 August 1929. Buried in Toowoomba cemetery, she left an estate of £30.

Isabel Gray could be hard in her business dealings but, if the mood moved her, kind to genuine cases of distress. Self-willed and self-indulgent she was, but the Eulo Queen will live as one of the characters of southwest Queensland history.