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Singleton Argus Personality of the Week - Mr Druce Allen Smith

From: Jan Glasby
Date: Wednesday, 3 July 2002 6:13 PM
"Singleton Argus" Friday 26 November 1948

Grandfather Landed With First Fleet
Mr Druce Allen Smith Has Pioneering Background
In return for service in His Majesty's forces during the first years of settlement at Botany Bay, and later in Newcastle, the Colonial Governor granted Captain John Smith 200 acres of river flat at Morpeth.
On it he founded one of the district's oldest pioneering families, which now has branches all over the Hunter Valley.
A scion of this family is Mr Druce Allen Smith, 80-year-old Singletonian, who in an interview with an "Argus" representative yesterday told stories which reach back to the first settlement and the experiences of his own long and active life.
Captain John Smith arrived in Australia with, or shortly after the first Fleet, and in common with his fellow officers, felt his service in New South Wales would be of a temporary nature only.
However, with the passing of years, he married and remained here, and never returned to England.
When Governor Phillip was recalled he gave to his officers, as a memento of service under him, an oval gold watch, which has been since retained by the family, and is now in the possession of Mr Smith.
This watch served members of the family for many years, but comparatively recently fine gold chains which operate the mechanism instead of a main spring have been unobtainable.
On his discharge from service, Captain Smith received the Morpeth grant, but only stayed on it a few years before leaving it to go to Luskintyre, where the mosquitoes were not quite so savage.
He settled and remained there until his death 20 years later.
The property, "Combo", Singleton, which has been in family possession for five generations, was select4ed on a clearing lease by Mr Smith's maternal grandfather, who also took part in district development.
He operated a tannery in Maitland, which he later sold to buy land where Capper's Maitland store is today.
Always "one of the boys", he lost the land in a card game one night, but his wife refused to hand the deed over to the winners.
This action forced Capper's to build their first store on wheels (so that it could be removed in event of a dispute over the site) and it remained on wheels for 20 years, until they claimed the land under Torrens Title.
Mr Smith's father was a "colonial boy" and a great horseman and rider. He followed farming, cattle and horse dealing, and butchering for a living.
During his childhood on "Combo", Mr Druce Smith recalls stories of brutality in the convict days told by two exconvicts, Jimmy Bullpit and John Britton, who were in his father's employ.
In the days of their assignment, the Hunter Valley was controlled by landholders who owned huge areas, worked by convicts under the direction of overseers.
These overseers were often brutal men hated by the convicts.
A tree under which "government men" were flogged still stands across the river from "Combo" and another long since gone, stood at the top of George Street.
As well as the sadistic floggings, useless and tiring tasks were given as penalties.
One man was forced to fill a 40-gallon cask from the river with a teaspoon.
When Mr Smith's grandmother landed in Sydney, she saw the bodies of six convicts swinging from trees on the roadside.
They had been punished for crimes against discipline.
Many wild cattle bred up in the mountains during the early settlement days, and in order to round them up, convicts would hold a mob of quiet cattle at Glendonbrook while stockmen would bring the bigger mobs to join them.
In later years, Mr Smith's father would bring brumby horses down from these same hills, he said, using a saddle made from stringy bark.
When Mr Druce Smith first remembered Singleton, there were no stockyards in the town, but later a small yard was built near the site of Burdekin Park.
Cattle and horses were held in mobs all over the flats, and were sold off at the yards in small groups.
The Smiths build their first butchery in Macquarie Street, and the site is occupied by a residence today.
It was made of floor boards, with great gaps between them.
Despite this they served most people in Singleton at the time.
In those days work began at 2 o'clock in the morning and the mean was cut up and delivered where possible before sunrise.
Often Mr Smith delivered meat on horseback to centres far out of Singleton, before going to school.
The bushranger, Thunderbolt, well remembered by many old hands, stole a horse named "Combo", named after the Smith property, and which had been owned by the Smiths.
The horse was taken from a stable where it was left overnight.
These stables were on a hill where Mr Harold Landers has his dairy today.
The horses were never recovered.
Mr Smith's father owned several racehorses, and often raced them with success at the old Singleton racecourse at Redbournberry, which took in Howe Park and the golf course.
One particular horse, Sofia, raced and won a two-mile race run off in two heats over two days.
Conditions required the winner to win both races.
The horses were fed corn on the cob, and oaten and wheaten hay.
Prize money was paid in gold.v Mr Smith himself owned many racehorses, which he raced with considerable success in this district and at Newcastle.v His horse, Wallace Macduff, won the Newcastle Tattersall's Handicap, when the prize money was only 22 pounds 10/-.
Among horses owned by him were Alno Smoke, Nellie Mary, Nellie May and many others.
Mr Smith was a young married man with three children when the '93 flood struck Singleton.
He first noticed that the river was "walking up" the bank at 11 pm, and he rode into town and warned his father, who laughed at him.
Mr Smith rode back to "Combo" and warned all his neighbours, and shortly after 12 o'clock they were loaded and read to move.
With his wife and three children in the buggy, he came on into Singleton, to do so they had to drive through a flooded gully.
The following morning which was Wednesday, his father's family and neighbours from Macquarie Street loaded a butcher's cart with meat and small goods and moved to the town common, where they remained flood bound until the following Sunday.
On the Sunday evening, he killed a bullock under a tree near Redbournberry bridge, which was the first meat many people had received for nearly a week.
Camped on the common were the Alexander family of eight, his father's seven, his own five, and Ham Smith's six.
There were also another eight people with them, making 34 in all.
One neighbour, Mr Shaddock, a bootmaker and farmer, was warned about the flood at 4 o'clock in the morning, but although he heeded the warning and moved his cattle out, swimming them over Florry's Gully, he decided to stay on in the house.
Towards dinner time, the council boat was called out to shift his family, and they pulled across the river to a hill at Dunolly.
Shaddock and a son stayed on. During the night the house got shakey and they were forced to move to the barn. The house was swept away.
After they moved from the barn to a haystack, on still higher ground, the flood began to subside.
When the flood had eased sufficiently, the house was found half a mile from the original position, intact and attached to a fence.
All Shaddock's wooden shoe lasts and tacks were washed away, and for years after at "Combo" they were turning up buried in the soil.
In later years Mr Smith, who brought up his family of 12 children at "Combo", began contracting for the council, and over a period of seven years gravelled all the streets.
He has had the pleasure of ploughing up John Street, he said, and has also ploughed Bourke Street from end to end.
When Dunolly Bridge was being built, Mr Smith carried gravel and filling required for construction of the approaches.
His was the first dray to go on the bridge.
In digging for gravel, he and his men often dug up relics of Singleton washed into the river in earlier floods.
On one occasion he found a big copper used for slaughterhouse work, which had been washed into the river in 1866.
For many years the salvaged copper, which must be more than 100 years old, was used at his slaughter house, and may still be in use at L. J. O'Keeffe's slaughter yards.
The Smiths have all been good horsemen, and the family still continues in this tradition.
His son, Lyn Smith, is one of Australia's foremost riders, and was the first to ride the well-known outlaw, Rocky Ned, which later featured in Australian buckjump show rings.
Three of Lyn's brothers rode Rocky Ned also.
Accepting a 10 pound challenge from Mr Skuthorpe, Lyn Smith rode another famous outlaw, Queenslander.