Thursday, January 26, 2012

The day my ancestor met Charles Darwin

By Cassie Mercer, editor of Inside History magazine

Above: Table Land Blue Mountains, 1826, by Augustus Earle. This painting depicts the road and 
country Charles Darwin travelled between Sydney and Bathurst. Courtesy National Museum of Australia

My 4 x great grandparents were farmers and cattle drovers in the central west of New South Wales in the mid-1800s. Between the present-day towns of Warren and Nevertire they built cattle yards to hold 2000 head, and bred draught and thoroughbred horses. But it is their occupation in the 1830s – one that allowed them to meet one of the most influential figures of the modern world no less – that I’d like to focus on for my Twigs of Yore Australia Day blog.

My 4 x great grandfather Tom Readford was a petty criminal in York, England. On Christmas Eve 1813 Tom and a friend stole four hides of leather, were caught, and handed a sentence of transportation for seven years. In the same year, and on the other side of the world, the first crossing of the Blue Mountains by white men was talking place – an area that was to be Tom’s new home two decades later.

Tom arrived in the colony in 1815, and a few years later married “cornstalk” (that is, she was born in the colony) Jemima Smith. Fast forward to 1833 and Tom and Jemima were landholders northwest of Sydney and employing two convict labourers. At a time when liquor licences were not required, Tom sold alcohol at a weatherboard dwelling call the Bathurst Traveller, but known locally as the Weatherboard Inn. The name Weatherboard was also given to the village that grew there; now this is the town of Wentworth Falls in the Blue Mountains. Pitt Park in Wentworth Falls today covers the site of the Weatherboard Inn. The inn was a popular stopover with people travelling between Sydney and Bathurst, and kept the couple, already parents to a large family, extremely busy. In 1835 a James Backhouse wrote that he’d had “an excellent meal of beef and bread with tea” at the inn, but the room had no glass in the windows and so a piercing cold wind blew through them.

Decades later Tom and Jemima’s son Edward wrote of his childhood at the inn, especially how he would show the local sights to visitors and unlike his father never became lost. Edward claimed that “people were arriving from all parts daily at my father’s house for the sole purpose of beholding this wonderful place”. Edward also told the story of meeting the soldier who shot the bushranger John Donohue: apparently the soldier spent considerable time at the Weatherboard as his barracks was just opposite. Edward described him as a very quiet Scotsman. Interestingly, Edward’s brother became notorious cattle thief Harry Readford (aka Captain Starlight), and his grandfather had been a highwayman in Ireland, but this seems not to have coloured his view of the man who had shot a bushranger as part of his job.

Above: A portrait of 31-year-old Charles Darwin by George Richmond in 1840. 
Courtesy of the Darwin Heirlooms Trust, copyright English Heritage Photo Library.

Even more interesting is the fact that on January 17, 1836, after tethering his horse at the Weatherboard Inn, Charles Darwin walked to the Wentworth Falls along the wooded track (now known as Darwin’s Walk). On January 23 on his return from Bathurst to Sydney, Darwin stayed overnight at the Weatherboard Inn. And so my 4 x great grandparents waited on Darwin, served beef and bread to him and probably ensured his room was the “good bedroom” with glass in the windows!

Their occupation as innkeepers continued for many years: in 1837 the couple sold the inn to Abraham Joseph Levy, and they moved to the Woolpack Inn 25km closer to Sydney. Then in 1842 Tom obtained a licence for the Old Westwood Inn at Cunningham Creek, near present-day Ilford, 50km south of Mudgee.

Tom began life in Richmond, North Yorkshire, found home life and Richmond problematic, committed a minor crime and found himself flung to the other side of the world. But this new place allowed him to build up considerable wealth through leasing land, buying and selling property, running cattle and managing inns. And through his toil, he met the famous Mr Darwin.

When Tom died, it is not entirely ironic that he was buried in Richmond, not in North Yorkshire, but in New South Wales.

I would like to thank Barbara Hall and Neil Hall for their time and toil in researching the story of Tom and Jemima. More information on the Readford family can be found in One Family History: 220 Years in Australia (Irish Wattle, 2010).

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


The entries have gone into the draw and the winners are! Congratulations to:

[1] Ultimate FMP subscription package winner:

  • C. Sackville, Canterbury, VIC

[2] Little Branch gift set:

  • N. Rigney, Alexandria, NSW

[3] Double conference pack to In the Shadow of War - Australia 1942:

  • G. Annand, Yarrawonga, VIC

Thanks to our supporters - find my past, Little Branch and Military History and Heritage Victoria - for making our giveaways possible!

For more information on giveaways, click here. Stay tuned to our facebook page, over the coming weeks we'll be featuring some of the photo entries submitted to the ultimate find my past package competition. I know we loved receiving the photos and the hearing the amazing stories behind them!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Love history, love books? What's your favourite history book?

To celebrate 2012 being the National Year of Reading, we want you to nominate your favourite history book!

Inside History magazine is delighted to share in this year-long celebration. We’re one of the partners of the National Year of Reading 2012, a campaign about children learning to read and keen readers finding new sources of inspiration. It’s about supporting reading initiatives while respecting the oral tradition of storytelling. And it’s about helping people discover and rediscover the magic of books. Read more about the initiative at

Over the next few months, we’ll be asking you to nominate your favourite history and genealogy books! It’s a big call we know, so get thinking about publications that made you love history, or that contributed to your research. Enter as many titles as you wish. Then, in mid-2012, we’ll publish the top 10 nominations and ask Inside History readers to vote for their favourite, to be announced in late 2012. A few rules: the book must be non-fiction, and published in Australia or New Zealand in English.

To nominate a book, you can post on our facebook wall tweet us or as with all our competitions, email or write to Inside History PO Box 406 Erskineville NSW 2043. Entries close 5pm, April 24.

Photo credit: Image Gosford Library 1951. Courtesy Gosford City Library

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Issue 8; Jan-Feb 2012 now available on iPad!

Like new fangled ideas, do you go for gadgets? Now you can find Inside History on the iPad app store. Just like print, it's packed with photos, tips and tools for all historians.

At the moment, Issue 8 and Issue 7 are available. All you need to do is download our free app and then you can buy individual copies at A$8.49! That's a 20% saving on the print copy price! Plus you get to save on bookshelf space and you always have your Inside History with you.

All of our back issues will be available soon, so stay tuned!