Fremantle Stuff > Early Days: Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Western Australian Historical Society
(Read before the Society, October 25, 1929.)
Pelloe, Mrs T. 1929, 'The York Road', Early Days, vol. 1, part 6: 1-16.
Many memories of the pioneer past are associated with the York Road, called originally the King Dick Road, after a native who first acted as guide. Motor cars and heavily loaded motor trucks now spin over its 60 hilly miles. For many years after the first settlers ventured over the Darling Range, travellers on the York Road went in drays, waggons, carts or buggies, rode on horseback, or walked.
On September 6, 1831, the first settlers of the Eastern Districts set out over the hills from Guildford. Ensign Robert Dale, accompanied by Mr. Brockman, had already explored the country and spoken glowingly of it. The expedition comprised about 20 persons. No complete list remains in existence. A great crowd of spectators assembled to wave farewells to the adventurous band. The travellers were escorted on the first day's stage by the Governor, Sir James Stirling. Ensign Dale was in charge of the expedition. The cart in which the Governor rode was drawn by five horses. Two horses and two cows were harnessed to the waggon in which Messrs. Clarkson and Hardy travelled. Mr. Hales's rustic cart was drawn by two cows. The Governor left the party at the foot of the Darling Range amid cheers from the pioneers. The first night was spent under a large gum tree. A kangaroo was killed and roasted. Two native huts were noticed in the distance by the men in their hammocks. The flickering camp fire threw its beams on the munching horses and cattle, on the winding track which led back to Guildford, on the trees and undergrowth of the hills ahead, and on the rough shelters which suggested the too near presence of those whose murderous savagery constituted definite danger.
On the following day the ascent of the Darling Range was commenced. Ensign Dale went ahead and blazed the trees. The axemen followed who cleared a track through the forest, and behind the axemen came the rumbling carts. So great was the difficulty of travelling, that only three miles were negotiated on the second day. The tedium of slow progress was lessened to some extent by the good spirits of an old soldier called Sheridan, who talked and sang incessantly. To Sheridan had been allotted the duty of wheeling a kind of perambulator for measuring distances, and many of his jokes, doubtless, referred to his task. On the 12th of September the party left the mahogany forest and entered the more lightly timbered she-oak country. Some natives encountered there were surprised and alarmed at seeing white people for the first time, and beat a hurried retreat into the bush. Another kangaroo was killed, and the meat made a welcome addition to meal supplies. It was not until September 15th, when Mt. Bakewell was sighted, that the settlers got a glimpse of their destination. There was great rejoicing; a volley of guns was fired, and three hearty cheers were given. The site for the York settlement was chosen by Messrs. Bland, Dale, Clarkson and Hardy. In accordance with the Governor’s instructions several minor explorations had to be made. Consequently, Messrs. G. F. Moore, Thompson and Sheridan accompanied Ensign Dale in effort to explore the country to the south. They returned to York after fixing the site of Beverley and expressed themselves as well satisfied with what they had seen. Setting out again, they followed the course of the Avon River to the north-west. After travelling about 30 miles they crossed some rocky country and reached a ridge which sank abruptly into a large and beautiful valley. The view was superb. “The marvellous scenery,” remarked one recorder, “elevated our spirits again.” “Worcestershire,” cried one. “Shropshire,” asserted another. “Kilkenny for ever,” roared Sheridan. They hastened down into the valley where the grass was knee-high. Thus was the site of Toodyay fixed.
Meanwhile, Messrs. Hardy, Clarkson and Bland and other settlers had taken charge of their grants. Each settler was allowed two soldiers as a protection against hostile natives, and the exploring party returned to Perth to present their report to the Governor.
The wonderful fertility of the Avon Valley, combined with the bravery and fortitude of the first settlers, ensured successful settlement. The track first blazed by Ensign Dale became a highway, and places of accommodation soon marked its various stages.
The Half-way House
The following references to “The Half-way House” in the Perth Gazette of various dates are interesting:—
April 15, 1837.—An auction sale advertisement states that inventories of articles for sale may be seen at (among other hotels) “Mr. Smithers’ Half-way House to York.”
July 22, 1837.—Advertisement: “W. H. Smithers respectfully begs leave to return thanks to his friends and the public in general for the liberal support he has received at the Half-way House, and to inform them that it is his intention, as soon as circumstances will admit, to leave the same; therefore he will feel obliged by all debts due to him being immediately paid either to himself or Mr. Okely, who is duly authorised to receive the same.”
September 15, 1838.—Advertisement: “To be sold .... also the lease of that valuable house known by name of the Half-way House, between Guildford and York. To make any comment would be superfluous. For further particulars apply to Mr. W. H. Smithers, on the premises.”
November 16, 1839.—Civil Court report: “Charles Smith v. John Martin and John Scott, to recover £20/10/- for meat, drink and lodging provided by plaintiff to defendants. Mr. Jones stated: The defendants belonged to a road party under my charge on the York Road. I took them to plaintiff’s, who keeps the Half-way House Inn, and told him to let them have what they wanted and I would see him paid ..." (The defence was that the wrong bill was presented to defendants, and that they were charged for what some soldiers had.) Judgment was given for defendants.
In pre-railway days, the cartage of merchandise from the City, and wool, wheat, flour and sandalwood from Avon Valley holdings, kept many teamsters constantly employed. Motorists to-day complain bitterly of the corrugated condition of the York Road. Their trials are trivial compared to surface troubles when winter rains meant deep bogs in which horses floundered hopelessly in attempt to pull heavily laden waggons out of holes in which wheels sank to the
hubs. The following extract from the Perth Gazette of May 19, 1838, indicates early need for definite effort to combat conditions making transport difficult:—
THE YORK ROAD
“Resolutions proposed and carried at a meeting of the landed proprietors and settlers held at the hotel, York, on Saturday, the 12th May, 1838.
Resolution 1, proposed by Mr. W. Burges, and seconded by Mr. Carter: That a fund of the amount of £300 be raised by £10 shares, with power, if necessary, to increase their number, for the purpose of making a permanent improvement in the road from Guildford to York, building substantial bridges, sinking wells, etc.
Resolution 2, proposed by Mr. W. Burges and seconded by Mr. G. Eliot: That application be made to the Local Government to grant the shareholders a lease of the road for 35 years, with power to levy a toll and enforce fines, for the purpose of keeping the road in repair and remunerating shareholders.
Resolution 3, proposed by Mr. R. Brockman and seconded by Mr. S. Burges: That a committee of management consisting of five shareholders be appointed annually, with power to make the necessary improvements and alterations, and to call on the shareholders for instalments as may be required, after giving due notice.
Resolution 4, proposed by Mr. R. Brockman and seconded by Mr. S. Burges: That no individual be permitted to take more than one share, unless it be found necessary towards making up the capital.
Resolution 5, proposed by Mr. Carter and seconded by Mr. S. Burges: That the following be the scale of tolls:—Eightpence for a cart with one horse and nine-pence for each horse extra. Two shillings for a cart with two bullocks and sevenpence for each bullock extra. Ninepence extra for two-wheeled carriages. One shilling for each saddle horse. Sixpence each for horned cattle and horses in a drove. Twopence per head for sheep and goats, if under 10; for 10 and upwards, a penny per head. And that these tolls be payable for 10 miles and upwards.
Resolution 6, proposed by Mr. Carter and seconded by Mr. S. Burges: That one of the committee be appointed to act as secretary and treasurer.
Resolution 7, proposed by Mr. Eliot and seconded by Mr. W. Burges: That a deputation of three shareholders be appointed to wait upon the Governor and lay before him the proceedings of the meeting, and request his earliest attention to the same.
Resolution 8, proposed by Mr. Carey and seconded by Mr. Carter: That the accounts of the managing committee be laid before the shareholders at the annual meetings.
Resolution 9, proposed by Mr. Eliot and seconded by Mr. Carter: That the proceedings of the meeting be sent to Mr. Macfaull, with the request that he will insert them in The Perth Gazette.
Editorial comment was as follows:—“The meeting relative to the York Road, the proceedings of which will be found on the last page of our present number, took place pursuant to a request of the Government Resident, R. H. Bland, Esq., by several settlers of that neighbourhood, and it would appear, who are strongly impressed with the necessity for effecting some improvement to this line of road, which has of late been neglected owing to the inadequate resources granted by the Colonial Revenue for such purposes; if we find, therefore, that the local government is not prepared to advance the funds, we decidedly think that even at the sacrifice of a deviation from the prescribed rules, the object, if taken in hand, to be effective by subscription ought to be assisted and fostered to the full extent of the power of His Excellency the Governor may feel himself justified in exercising. The shares, we understand, have been all taken up.”
These resolutions were not carried into effect. Mr. James Cowan has stated that the toll system was never installed on the York Road, but in an extract ‘given later, a toll-gate at Mahogany Creek is mentioned. The condition of the road is referred to in The Perth Gazette of December 7, 1839, in the course of a description of a journey to York, as follows:—
“We preferred, however, starting in the afternoon and taking the cool of the evening to reach the Half-
way House (32 miles), where we arrived about 9 o’clock. The attention of Mr. and Mrs. Smith, with the substantial comforts provided, must make this establishment a welcome resort to the travellers, at least if we may be allowed to form an opinion from our own experience we should say they deserve every encouragement, and from the number of visitors they have entertained during the present wool season they must have ample testimony that their willingness to oblige has been fully appreciated. Up to this point a new road has been made. The manner in which this work has been performed, under the new system of local directors, is very satisfactory, and a carriage may now be driven from Guildford to York with the greatest ease, one-half the distance being equal to any macadamised road in England; the other portion, when worn down by increased traffic, will be little inferior The ride from Greenmount to the Half-way House—a distance of about 17 miles—is through the most dense and monotonous forest; and we could but commend the perseverance of the first persons who penetrated through this country in 1829 (Messrs. Dale and Brockman), in search of a better locality for agricultural and pastoral purposes. Minds less determined traversing this mahogany forest day after day, we are satisfied, would have given it up in despair. They were ten days in reaching the Avon, and the journey can now be made in one. Mr. John Hardey, we believe, has been the first to show that it is practicable with a four-wheeled vehicle, he having driven from his residence adjoining the townsite of York to Guildford in one day. . . .”
Further newspaper reference to the condition of the York Road occurs in November, 1848, when the state of the roads in Western Australia at this time seems to have been deplorable, and the York and Toodyay roads in particular almost impassable. It was suggested that the Board of Works should appoint a road surveyor, whose whole time should be devoted to traversing the roads and arranging for repairs before their condition became hopeless. It was thought that if something of the kind could be done a great deal of money would be saved and permanently good lines of communication provided.
York Road teamsters suffered serious disabilities from the badness of the road. The greatest goodwill prevailed
among them, however, and ready hands always assisted the other fellow in difficulties.. There are few of these fine men left now, but to listen to tales of the early teamsters is to learn of the romance as well as the hardships of pioneering days. The teamsters used to wear white moleskins and billycock hats. Fine horses—Shires and Suffolks principally—were their delight and pride. Carrying rates were from £2 to £3 a ton each way. The average time taken for the return trip was 5 1/2 days. In summer the miles between halting places seemed long and the heat tried men and horses alike. Small boughs broken from roadside shrubs were used as shades to protect drivers of drays and waggons from fierce sunshine, and often in hot weather the teamsters fell asleep. Such slumber was resented greatly by men coming in the opposite direction, and it was a common practice to turn the team of a sleeping driver, who would awaken frequently to find himself travelling many miles back from whence he came. These jokes were always taken in good part, and bad feeling on the road was rare.
Two mails a week each way were carried by mail cart at first between Perth and York. Four-wheeled coaches superseded the carts. These had a light frame cover, open in front and behind. The passengers sat back to back. The journey by coach, an all-night trip, was usually a bitterly cold experience. The coaches used to leave Perth or York in the afternoon and arrive at their destination about 7 a.m.
The first stopping place of teams travelling from Perth to York was at Mahogany Creek, the next at the Lakes (Half-way House), with another about 10 miles further on at the 19-Mile. In the old days there were wayside inns at each of these baiting spots, where wearied horses and men received such care and comfort as could be expected in isolated situations. Grape vines and fruit trees, especially figs, provided luscious, gratis refreshment in summer for tired travellers. St. Ronan’s Well was the last halting place. As many as 50 or 60 teams would camp there at once sometimes. According to Mr. Brockman, of York, grandson of the old pioneer Brockman, who married a grand-daughter of Captain Richard Goldsmith Meares, a Waterloo veteran and early York settler, Bishop Salvado bestowed the name of St. Ronan’s Well upon the spring which still feeds the present well, dug over 80 years ago. It
was then flanked by lines of lovely flooded gums. The good Bishop was exploring, as was his wont, in search of suitable sites for churches, and the crystal clear water was more than welcome to all members of his party. The site of St. Ronan's Well is now denuded of most of the trees that once made it beautiful, and the earth about it has been trampled bare and hard by horses and cattle. But it is still a welcome spot to travellers. Since the recent publication of an article on the York Road, the name of this well has been disputed. I have been informed in regard to it as follows: “Four very old residents call it Rolland’s Well, laughingly declaring that there were no saints in W.A. in those days.” It is possible that the name “St. Ronan’s” has been wrongly pronounced and confused with someone perhaps called Rolland.
The ancient stone building, said to have been built and opened by a Mr. Lawson, is either the inn referred to previously as the Half-way House, run by Mr. W. H. Smithers, and later by Mr. Charles Smith; or a place built subsequently, and later owned and occupied for many years by Mr. Horten, and known as “The Lakes” Inn. This place is picturesquely situated at a curve in the road near a reed-covered expanse of water. Once a magnificent white cedar shaded the angled verandah in front. This tree was replaced 35 years ago by a mulberry, now a sturdy-limbed giant. The original roof was a thatched one. It was renewed with the present shingles by Mr. Horton, after a fire which consumed the rush covering. To mark the restoration of the roof a fir tree was planted, which now has attained great height. One of Mr. Hinton’s sons drove the York Road coach for many years, and his daughters were noted for their skill and daring in the saddle. The Hinton family left The Lakes when the coaches stopped running, and the licence was transferred to an inn at Chid-low’s Wells, now the Oxford Hotel. Many amusing and jovial tales are told of happenings at The Lakes. Sir Edward Wittenoom, as a young man, and members of the Craig and Parker families, of York, were frequent visitors. Sleep often was disturbed there, and restless guests used to strike a light suddenly and apply the business end of a match to intruders on the wall. After being completely renovated the old inn, after the cancellation of the licence, was conducted as an accommodation house for travellers and holiday-makers. Recently a new establishment was
built on the site of the adjacent prison and police quarters, but the old inn is preserved in good order. On the flats by the gully near the road where the railway line has been built, there was once a cricket ground where many matches were played between teams from Guildford and York.
The inn at the 19-Mile was erected with “pug” by Mr. Giles, who married a Miss Chivrel, of Guildford. It has been described as a little low-roofed place surrounded by tall gum trees and zamia palms. It was later known as Lloyd’s Inn, and is now a privately owned farm homestead. Part of the original old building remains, but the room where a girl was murdered by a jealous lover has disappeared. A ghostly tale used to circulate among the teamsters that the bloodstains always reappeared on the wall after being washed off. Snakes used to be plentiful on the road at the 19-Mile. A story goes that Mr. Lloyd was picking a bunch of grapes one day when he was bitten on the finger by a black snake. He at once took a tomahawk and chopped off the injured finger, mounted a horse and galloped every yard of the 19 miles to York. There he received medical aid, and was assured that his prompt action had saved his life. Good horses were used on the York Road in those days. Mr. Lloyd’s son is said to have done the record ride of the road. He cashed a cheque in the bar which was later suspected to be a forgery. Taking a well-bred young bay horse, he rode hurriedly to York to stop payment at the bank, but there he found that the cheque had already been sent to Perth. He therefore turned and rode the same horse back to the 19-Mile and on to Perth, doing the 60 miles in four hours. The horse never got over the gruelling journey, and because it always remained in poor condition, was known along the road as “Barebones.” Another hard ride was done by Mr. James Cowan, who made his first journey to York from Perth in a bullock dray, as a baby in long clothes, when he cried desperately at the rough jolts. As a young man, Mr. Cowan left York at half-past four one Saturday afternoon and rode all night, arriving in Perth at daybreak on Sunday. After spending the day with friends and going to church, he left the City at 9 p.m., as the old Post Office clock was striking. He rode to The Lakes, had two hours’ spell there, and went on to Lloyd’s for early breakfast. He arrived back at York on Monday morning at 8 a.m., and was ready in Court for the first case at 10 o’clock.
The York Road was renovated and properly made by convicts. Parties of prisoners, each under a single warder, camped near the road, and worked at various distances apart. The men were well behaved on the whole and gave little trouble. Many made traps for birds, called cribs, and snares for hoodies, in order to supplement scanty meat supplies. Prisoners of good character were set to watch the others at their work. Ticket-of-leave men settled on the land and prospered, many of them being able to tend stock, reap. mow. sow, and plough. In a paddock at Greenmount, the property of Mr. Hugo Throssell, an old convict-built guard-house, a grey relict of hand-hewn slabs and shingles, still stands. At Darlington turn-off there are ruins of a mud-walled prison and warders’ quarters. When the new accommodation house at The Lakes was built up on the ruins of the old police quarters, cell dividing walls were removed to make a spacious kitchen, lit by narrow slit-windows in the two-feet thick outer walls, each with a solid square iron bar set perpendicularly in the elongated opening. A long iron bar is preserved to which the leg irons of the prisoners were attached by a ring which slid along, permitting movement without risk of escape during hours of close confinement. Ruins of a mud prison and police quarters may still be seen in the vicinity of St. Ronan’s Well, about 15 miles from York.
Impressions of a journey from Perth to York in 1870 record a convict depot not far from the Causeway. “These depots,” the writer relates, “are to be found sprinkled all over the country wherever gangs are at work. Each depot has a bell to summon the convicts at certain hours. The tolling of the bell soon became very familiar to the people who used to rely on it to obtain the correct time. This particular convict depot was surrounded by a neat fence made of ti-tree and spearwood. Nearby was an old paperbark bereft of leaves. It was this tree which was popularly supposed to be haunted by Malcolm’s ghost. Gordon, a basket-maker. had been murdered and robbed of thirty shillings. Black trackers and police traced the murderer to Seabrook and there apprehended Malcolm, who was subsequently hanged on the old paperbark tree. As usual in cases of murder, there was distinct element of doubt in the minds of certain people, and some there who felt this doubt confirmed
when the paperbark tree died in the following year. Thus the legend grew that Malcolm’s ghost was wont restlessly to haunt the locality. At the long Barndon Hill (near Rivervale), there was Dr. Ferguson’s farm, where a fine grove of bananas overhung a long milking shed. It was said that rats and mice developed such a liking for the fruit that they ate every banana that appeared. The bush track then opened out into the clearing of Grove Farm, owned by the Hardeys, in whose property the Ascot races were held. At the top of the next rise stood another convict depot. Near by was Tibbie’s farm, marked by a fine row of olive trees, and John Oliver’s farm, known as “Mangonna,” was at the foot of the hill. A little beyond it lived Oliver’s two elderly sisters in a lonely cottage. On Ascot race days they used to dispense ginger beer at a small booth beside the road. Then we came to “Redcliffe,” Fauntleroy’s estate by bush track; then to James Oliver’s farm of St. Ann’s and then to Limestone Creek. This creek gave its name to an adjoining farm belonging to Mr. Waters. Beside the road a fine row of olive trees marked the site of the farm, and further back the native cypress mingled with the exotic date palms. A few miles brought us to another farm owned by Johnson, who had also a mill in Guildford. Bett’s property was next, and then Malahyde’s farm. A two-storey house seen just before crossing the new bridge, belonged to Mr. Chivrel.
“The track fell away to the Helena River spanned by the jarrah bridge built in 1867. It was there during the first big flood in 1862 that Mr. F. C. Piesse was washed off his horse on the old bridge and carried down into the swollen waters. Fortunately, he managed to get into the fork of an old gum tree, from which he was rescued. Johnson’s mill was visible ahead. There most of the district’s wheat was gristed. The track turned sharply to the right, leading to the Government School, and another turn brought into sight the principal convict depot of the Swan district, and the Stirling Arms, an inn erected by John Melbourne Then there were passed in rapid succession, the hospital, the Mechanics’ Institute, Dr. Waylen’s residence, the Police Station, and the Court House. Another turn to the right brought us to the “Rose and Crown” Hotel, built in 1841, then past Padbury’s stores, Devenish’s bakery and Grave’s stores. Woodbridge Farm, where the first wheat in Western Australia was planted, marked the end of Guildford.
Greenmount lay ahead and convicts were at work on a fine stretch of road. Their moleskins were liberally sprinkled with broad arrows, and the warder, dressed in blue, silently watched them.
“At the summit of the first ascent, close to the roadside, there was a shelf of rock known as Chipper’s Leap. In the early days of the Colony, Chipper and a boy were taking provisions to York. Suddenly eight natives appeared out of the scrub. For a moment the two took refuge behind the cart, but the menacing attitude of the natives forced them to sudden retreat. They jumped from the shelf of rock. Unfortunately, the boy broke his leg and could not go on. Chipper was speared in the back; he grasped the spear in his hand and ran on. In the meantime the natives dashed out the boy’s brains and proceeded to steal the provisions. Chipper ran down the valley until he came to an encampment of sappers. Mr. William Jones removed the spear from the wound, and rode for Dr. Waylen, who succeeded in pulling Chipper through. Subsequently the police busied themselves in locating the murderer of the boy, who was buried near some gnarled gum trees on the opposite side of the road to Chipper’s Leap. Under the same trees his death was avenged by the hanging of his murderer. The trees were afterwards called “the bloody gums."
“A few more miles on through the forest the vegetation changed in character. The gums and stunted timber gave place to stately mahogany trees (jarrah). Ahead was a charming valley, an old-world toll bridge, a sparkling brook and a wayside inn, the “Prince of Wales,” at Mahogany Creek. Near Mahogany Creek a convict named James Peacock disappeared. He was working for two other convicts who had been liberated. Just as pay day was approaching. for the convicts were paid at the rate of 1/- a day, Peacock vanished, and his disappearance remained a mystery. At the six-mile gully, in 1870, several teamsters were bringing sandalwood to Fremantle. A bush-fire stopped the last of them, a man named Gentle, when a burning tree fell across the road. His horses and waggon were burned to cinders. Gentle escaped with serious burns which, fortunately, did not prove fatal."
At Bugler’s Creek, in the vicinity of Mundaring, Mrs. Hamilton, the wife of a convict warder, was found dead,
with her horse tied to a tree nearby. Mr. Byfield, of Northam, has stated that Mrs. Hamilton died from heart disease, not as a result of a fall, and that his brother was informed by a convict that a woman was dead upon some wood down the road. He rode to Guildford and was arrested on suspicion. The police took Dr. Waylen to the spot, and the doctor found that the deceased lady had died from heart disease. A grandson of Mrs. Hamilton discounts the story of the arrest, but affirms the fact that Mrs. Hamilton was found dead; having felt ill, it was supposed, dismounted, tied up her horse, and died alone by the road.
Referring again to Chipper’s Leap, the story as related by Mr. Steve Chipper, grandson, is as follows:—
“Greenmount, one of the highest altitudes in the Darling Range along the old York Road, is well known to old West Australians as ‘Chipper’s Leap,’ the name of the huge rock having been given to it owing to the head of the Chipper clan (John Chipper) having been so seriously speared and surrounded by natives, that his escape from death bordered upon the miraculous. Edmund Stirling, in his ‘Brief History of Western Australia,’ relating to native depredations, referring to the York-Greenmount tragedy in January, 1834, says that the attack near the same place (Greenmount) had previously been made on another cart when a lad named Beecham (Beauchamp) was killed, and the late John Chipper, senr., was severely wounded. Mr. Chipper narrowly escaped death. He made a dash for freedom and life in running away, but not before the natives had succeeded in putting two spears into his back, following him in hot pursuit. Fortunately, however, Mr. Chipper managed to outdo his pursuers and leapt from a rock 20ft. high, which is now known as ‘Chipper’s Leap.’ Being a heavy man, Mr. Chipper came to the ground with such force that he burst the toes of his boots, a pair of water-tights nearly new. Mr. Chipper had to go seven miles with the barb of the spear remaining in his back, he having succeeded in breaking it off the long wood. He made for Woodbridge, the house of Governor Stirling, was attended to by Lady Stirling, and recovered from his wounds. John Chipper and Mary Chipper (his wife) arrived in Western Australia in the ship Caroline on October 12, 1829. John Chipper died on January 29, 1871, aged 65 years.”
Bushrangers were a menace to travellers on the York Road. The story goes that Moondyne Joe was once captured at Horton’s Inn, at The Lakes. Suspecting his identity, the landlord drugged his ale and sent post haste to York and Guildford for the police. In five minutes the outlaw was asleep on the bar floor, and lay there till the troopers came. Their arrival disturbed him, and quickly recovering from the effects of the drug, he fought hard for liberty, and it took five men to overcome his struggles and handcuff him. The captive escaped, however, at Mahogany Creek, by slipping his handcuffs. He successfully eluded immediate recapture, and taking his own horse from among the troopers’ mounts, rode across to the Swan, and eventually reached his secret hiding-place in the Moondyne Hills. Another bushranger, about whose York Road exploits there is no doubt, was an Irishman named James Lilly, a notorious vagabond, a magnificent rider, and an inveterate horse thief. Only the best animals procurable suited him. He would stick up anyone on the road who he thought could produce cash, steal from the teamsters, or demand food at isolated houses. It was his boast that he never touched a hair of the ladies’ heads. In 1860 Lilly wrote the following letter to the Perth Inquirer:—
“I, James Lilly, wish to inform the settlers of my going into the bush, through Henry Mead asserting at the Police Station on the Canning, and brought accusations against me for stealing his horse, and called by a d---- convict in the presence of the policeman’s wife and family and several more besides in the district, which I could not bear, and forced me into the bush to take up arms, and I do not intend to do any harm at present, if His Excellency be pleased to allow me to go to my friend in another Colony, and what I have done I will restore to everyone uninjured and, if not. would sooner die than come out of the bush, and do intend making Mead and a few others remember me. I hope His Excellency will take me into his clemency, which will prevent me committing any more harm.”
One of Lilly’s escapades in sticking up a settler with a cabbage stalk, pretending it was a pistol, and getting off with a lovely thoroughbred horse, was looked upon as a great joke. He is said to have played somewhat the same game
at The Lakes once with a useless old pistol, after waylaying a prosperous York resident, telling him who he was, and advising him to send the police out after him. But the police came sooner than the boastful Lilly expected, and before he had time to seize his broken revolver, they had him handcuffed. After serving a term in gaol he gave no more trouble on the York Road. Another story has it that Lilly was captured while asleep at Horton’s Inn. It should be possible for definite facts to be established in regard to the reported York Road captures of Moondyne Joe and Lilly. Gray was a bushranger denounced by the teamsters and settlers as “a bad bloke.” Andy Miller was another unpopular highwayman. He killed a policeman called Hackett.
Much of the success achieved by York Road bushrangers in eluding arrest was due to the sympathy and assistance of the convicts and bondmen. But a rogue called Thomson was forced to be his own watchdog. Because of a propensity for stealing from the prisoners’ camps he made enemies of those who otherwise would have helped him. Taking them on the whole, the York Road bushrangers were not desperately dangerous, and most of them had plenty of friends.
Two trees, once familiar to those who used the old York Road, have long since disappeared. One was the King Tree, a great jarrah, shown by King Dick to the first settlers. It was either cut down, burnt, or struck by lightning. The other was called the Water Tree. It was close to the 19-Mile, and travellers used to get a drink out of this tree up to 50 years ago.
Many of these tales of the old road were told to me by Ralph Ashworth, one of the last of the old teamsters, now of York, son of Edmund Ashworth, who came from England in the early days with the 96th Infantry, and married Charlotte Pollard, of Guildford, said to have been the second girl born in Western Australia. Others were supplied by Mr. James Cowan; Mr. H. Brockman, of York; Mrs. Paddy Collins, of York, daughter of Mr. Horton, and born at The Lakes 74 years ago; Mr. Barnes, present owner of The Lakes Hostel; and Mr. J. Tulloch, of Muresk Agricultural College. Some of the old-time descriptions of the road are from Mrs. Millett’s book, “An Australian Parsonage.”
Confirmation or correction of any of the happenings related, or additional incidents of interest, are requested, so
that they may be attached to a copy of this report and filed by the Historical Society for future reference.
Discussing the paper after the reading, a lady member said she remembered a toll gate on the York Road. A man said he had seen Lilly riding in the streets of Newcastle (Toodyay), dressed as a woman, on a beautiful horse. It was suggested by this member that St. Honan’s Well had been confused with Rolland’s Spring, on the Toodyay Road. Finality was not arrived at in regard to details of the Chipper’s Leap tragedy. It could not be ascertained definitely either who built The Lakes Inn, or if the old building there now is the original place run by Mr. Smithers. Another member (a clergyman) reported that, in all probability the grave of a Mrs. Smithers in a paddock near the old church near Guildford is that of the wife of the landlord of the Half-way House.
Garry Gillard | New: 7 October, 2020 | Now: 16 June, 2022