Reprint: Charles Harpur: First Australian-born Poet: A Daughter's Memories by M. Araluen Baldwin

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It has been suggested to me by a well known collector of Australian letters that my recollections of my father, Charles Harpur, the poet, would be of interest to many. I have a very good memory, and events that took place when I must have been very young stand out clearly in my mind. As I was not seven years old when my father died, part of what I shall put down has been told to me by my mother and others.

When we were children we were never tired of listening to my mother telling us stirring incidents that happened on the Araluen goldfield in the days of its prosperity. Among other things my mother told us was that my father, as gold commissioner, was treated like a prince by the hundreds of gold-diggers on the field at the time; also, that his word was law in all things -- there could be no appeal against his ruling. He must have been wise and just, as my mother said there was very little real trouble among the gold-diggers at the time.


When Araluen was on the wane, my father was transferred to Nerrigundah goldfield -- it was always called "The Gulf" in those days. My father had to go and take up his duties at "The Gulf" but my mother remained at Araluen with her children until he had made a home for us. He selected about 500 acres of land on the banks of the Tuross River at Eurobodalla, and called the property Euroma, which I believe, is a black's name. He had a comfortable house built, and a garden and orchard laid out and planted. As the result of my father's forethought, we had a lovely garden and a fine orchard in bearing long before there was another in the district.

I must tell how we had to travel from Araluen to Eurobodalla, about 75 miles -- nothing in these days, but an awful journey at that time. My mother said the road was little better than a rough bridle track. Only saddle and pack horses could be used. There was quite a party of us, consisting of my father and mother, my brothers, Washington and Charley, our nurse Bella (who had been with mother for years), and Mr. Glover, a young man that my father was taking with him to manage and farm the land at Eurobodalla. All of them were riding. There were two or three pack horses. One which Mr. Glover was leading had two Chinese baskets slung across its back. In one was my sister Ada, who was about four years old and in the other my brother Harold, about six years old. I (the writer) being at that time one year and six months old was carried by my father in front of him all the way to Moruya, our first stopping place. A few miles out of Moruya we were met by Mr. Caswell, the police magistrate and his wife, at whose house we spent the night. The next day we continued our journey to our new home. My mother said she was delighted with it as she never expected anything so nice in such a short time.


There was great excitement in the district shortly after this. The Clark gang of bushrangers was reported to be in the hills, and would be sure to stick up "The Gulf" as there was a large amount of gold on hand just then. Most of the storekeepers and hotelkeepers were gold buyers. My mother and servants gathered up their money and valuables, and my mother and Bella hid them in the garden. Mr Glover brought his wife up to our place for the night, so he could look after us all. My brothers were melting lead and making bullets and talking excitedly about the brave things they were going to do if the bushrangers came. Quite a number of men had mustered at our place to proceed to "The Gulf" to help to protect it against the bushrangers. At that time it was nine miles from Eurobodalla to "The Gulf," over a rough track winding around the mountains. Years after a road was made over the mountains, which shortened the distance between the two places to six miles.

The party of horsemen could only ride at a slow pace, so it was after dark before they arrived at "The Gulf". The bushrangers had already attacked Nerrigundah, and had shot a young policeman named O'Grady dead. A stone monument to Constable O'Grady's memory was erected near the old police station. The leader of the gang, Tommy Clark, went into the store of Pollock, one of the largest gold buyers, and demanded the key of the gold safe. Mrs Pollock had it in her hand at the lime, but instead of giving it to him she threw it out into the dark street, saying, "Go and find it." I believe that as he raised his gun angrily she said, "Would you be coward enough to shoot a woman?" Just then my father's party and other men arrived, and they drove the bushrangers to the hills again before they had time to get the haul of gold they expected. My father and a number of others followed them all that night, exchanging shots with the bushrangers several times, but the country was so wild and mountainous that they lost them before daylight. However, the bushrangers never appeared in the district again.


The first great trouble came into my father and mother's lives not long after this. My brothers, Washington and Charlie, were out duck shooting with a number of other boys. When they were about to return home, Charlie, who waa only 13 years old, stood on a log to mount his horse, and pulled his gun up after him. It went off, and shot him through the heart. I have never forgotten that dreadful evening. Even now, when I think of it, I can see my brother Washington galloping wildly home, screaming "Charlie's shot! Charlie's shot!" Washington was only a young boy, and the awful shock at seeing the brother he loved so dearly, dead in a minute before his eyes almost unbalanced his mind for the time. From this   time, my father was a changed man. Instead of being kindly and loving, he became stern and silent, and as children do not understand grief we grew to be rather in awe of him. I have often wondered since if we had had the courage then to let him know how we missed his loving ways, would he have thrown his brooding sorrow off a little for our sakes.

My mother has told me that my father was not unduly worried by the office of gold commissioner being abolished, as Sir John Robertson had assured him that as soon as his health was restored he would receive an appointment as police magistrate, and Sir John was always a man of his word. Unfortunately my father's health did not improve, and was now causing a great deal of anxiety. He had to take frequent journeys to Sydney, often accompanied by my mother, to see his doctors.  

Soon he became too ill to go anywhere. I can remember clearly the night he died. My brother and sister and myself were taken out of our beds by our nurse, Bella, and, going into my father's room each of us kissed him. I can see my mother standing at the head of the bed on which my father lay, but I think what impressed itself most on my memory was seeing Mr. Glover kneeling at the foot of the bed sobbing bitterly. I stood on a chair with Bella's arms around me, and she was saying over and over again: "Oh, the poor fatherless darlings."

Most who have written about my father's life seem to imply that he was most improvident, and a poor business man. No man could leave a fortune behind him on a salary of eight or nine hundred a year. My father left no debts, an unencumbered farm, a well- furnished, comfortable home, which I am sure was much better than most would have done on the same salary, although he was a poet.

First published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 24 August 1929

[Thanks to the National Library of Australia's newspaper digitisation project for this piece.]

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on March 2, 2012 9:52 AM.

Combined Reviews: Five Bells by Gail Jones was the previous entry in this blog.

Poem: The Scenic Part of Poetry by Charles Harpur is the next entry in this blog.

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