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Singleton Argus Personality of the Week - Mr W. H. Merrick
From: Jan Glasby
Date: Wednesday, 3 July 2002 6:12 PM
"Singleton Argus" Friday 6 August 1949 Personality of the Week
This Fellow Has Been Around in 92 Years Mr W. H. Merrick Saw the Kellys
William Henry Merrick, who was born at Howe's Valley 92 years ago, is descended from an early Australian pioneering family.
In his youth he was one of the "overlanders", who travelled from Queensland down the Cooper with mobs of store cattle to Adelaide.
He has driven cattle from NSW to Western Australia and from far western NSW and Queensland runs to railheads for shipment to coastal centres.
During his life time he saw many famous Australian bushrangers, Ned and Dan Kelly, and as a lad took food to a Hunter Valley half caste bush-ranger, "Yellow Billy", who later served a long gaol sentence.
His grandfather, the late Joseph Merrick, with his family, from the Hawkesbury, were among the first settlers at Howe's Valley.
The Merricks established themselves at Howe's Valley when it was impossible to take a waggon in or out, and all food and materials had to be transported by packhorse.
One of Mr W. H. Merrick's earliest recollections is that of "packing" supplies from Wollombi into the Valley by packhorse - a distance of 25 miles - when he was only 10 years old, he told an "Argus" representative.
He explains that packhorses are a much more satisfactory means of carrying goods than those not acquainted with them might think.
Horses can go anywhere a man can take them, he said, while rain and normal floods do not deter them, and if grass grows along the track, fuel is assured.
The packhorse will carry up to 2 cwt over fairly rough country without faltering.
He thinks it is over 60 years since the first road was cut into the valley and waggon teams were able to get in and out.
Before then the produce of the valley by which the family lived, had to be carried out by packhorse.
Farming was not intensified.
Crops of wheat were grown and ground into flour on hand-driven steel mills, and the usual vegetables and home-killed meat and home-grown fruit formed the staple diet.
Although much good timber grew in the valley, difficult transport methods made it impossible to market.
Good timber which would be very valuable today was often destroyed.
LIFE CONCERNED WITH WORK
Recalling his youth, Mr Merrick said he didn't play much sport; much of his life was concerned with work. He only had a few weeks' schooling at Howe's Valley school, which was attended by about 30 pupils.
Mr Richard Fawcett taught the school in those days, and the family is still represented he, Mr Merrick said. As a young man, he spent much of his time getting timber and building fences and learning droving, which, in his twenties, was to take him far inland and interstate.
It was during this period that he met bushranger "Yellow Billy", wanted by the NSW police for horse stealing.
"Billy", who was an intelligent half-caste, according to Mr Merrick, first came into conflict with the troopers when he broke into the Wollombi Court House, stealing nothing, but leaving behind his pipe, by which he was identified.
It took the police from 12 to 18 months to catch him. He was sentenced to three years' gaol, which he served at Parramatta.
On his release, "Yellow Billy" was far from home and without friends.
He stole a horse and made his way to Howe's Valley, where he was known and would get a feed.
"Yellow Billy" was not a vicious type, Mr Merrick said, and excepting for robbing one or two drovers of a "few bob", never really committed what could be called a serious crime - other than "shaking" the horse.
After a further period of hunting, the police again ran him down.
DEPORTED TO AMERICA
He was sentenced to 21 years, but was released on good behaviour and deported to America.
Other bushrangers were also given remitted sentences and allowed to go to America.
Mr Merrick gave for example the notorious Frank Gardiner, whom he did not know, but who was a really "tough character".
He held up coaches, often shooting the lead horses to stop them, stole Her Majesty's mail and robbed the passengers.
Frank Gardiner also shot and wounded policemen.
When finally caught, Gardiner was given a long sentence, Mr Merrick said, but was also released later and sent to America.
SAW NED AND DAN KELLY
During a trip to Victoria with a mate, whose name he cannot recall, but who came from the Hunter District, Mr Merrick saw Ned and Dan Kelly and other bushrangers.
"We did not interfere with them and they did not interfere with us," Mr Merrick explained.
His friend was later shot by a blackfellow.
During his droving days, Mr Merrick knew other men who were killed by blacks.
One man, Mr Jack Hall, was killed and chopped to pieces and his body thrown into the waterhole, the killing being carried out by uncivilised blacks, who sneaked on him during the daytime.
Far from being cruel to the aborigines, Mr Hall was good to them, Mr Merrick said, adding that this was a mistake with blacks that had not come into contact with civilised people.
It was not until the 1880s that he really got out into the back country, but when he did he travelled great distances and worked long hours, moving cattle slowly during the day and guarding them at night.
When he was not droving, he was working mustering on big stations, which had from 20,000 to 30,000 breeders.
This was hard work under the same conditions, as more often than not there were no yards to accommodate the big mobs which had to be guarded at night, branded and drafted during the day, and stock for sale herded for the stock route.
Droughts and floods broke the monotony of the plains and dried grass.
Mr Merrick has seen the Diementina River flooded for as far as 80 miles from its channel across miles and miles of water-logged plains.
Recalling the big floods he has seen on New South Wales, Queensland and South Australian rivers, this old-time drover said that there was either too much or not enough water.
Flood or drought, he said, was the contributing reason for his coming back to the coast to settle down.
On occasions it was necessary to step across dead beasts to get water for drinking.
He has seen what appeared to be a big mob of store cattle drinking at a water hole but when approached, proved to be a huge mob of cattle bogged and dead at a dry hole.
Mr Merrick said not only had he driven cattle from Queensland down Cooper's Creek to Adelaide, but he has driven them from Big River in NSW to Mount Ararat in Western Australia.
RETURNED TO HOWE'S VALLEY
While not sure of the date, Mr Merrick thinks it was about 1889 he returned from inland Queensland to Howe's Valley, travelling to Rockhampton, then a nice town, from where he came by the "Arimba" to Sydney, via Brisbane and Newcastle.
He did not stay in Sydney long.
Mr Merrick remarked that there was noting about the "big smoke" that particularly impressed him - then or now.
Before concluding his experiences in the inland, Mr Merrick mentioned the Barcoo River district, and the famous "Barcoo rot", which he claims is caused by the flies.
"There are a lot of flies inland and a lot of snakes," he said, "but there aren't as many snakes out west as there are at Putty, where I had a farm for 50 years, from which I retired to come into Singleton six years ago."
Mr Merrick told the "Argus" representative that supplies for the big Queensland runs were carted 500 miles from the ports.
SETTLED DOWN AND MARRIED
On his return from the north, Mr Merrick settled down and married, farming at Putty, on the old Sydney road.
At odd times he worked with a bullock team and carted many sleepers at 2/- a sleeper for rail repairs in Singleton in the early "teens" of this century.
With Mrs Merrick, who is also living and who is 80 years old, he raised a large family on the farm at Putty, 10 of whom are living today.
A son is carrying on the farm.
Last Friday Mr Merrick celebrated his 92nd birthday quietly at his home, receiving congratulations from his family and friends.
Mr and Mrs Merrick have 49 grandchildren, 54 great-grandchildren and one great-great grandchild.