Project Canterbury

The Life Story of the Rev. Frederick Robert Newton

By Henry Newton; Edited by Robert Leycester Dawson

Sydney: Building Print, [c. 1940]

Transcribed by the Right Reverend Dr. Terry Brown
Retired Bishop of Malaita, 2009

[1] The Life Story of



(Edited by Robert Leycester Dawson).

Having known Mr. F. R. Newton intimately in my young days, 1868 up to the end of 1879, and having occasionally kept in touch with him since those dates up to the time of his death in April, 1926, I have often thought that a biography of that good and estimable man might be welcomed by his old friends of the Clarence, Richmond and Tweed, besides being of some general historical value.

I felt that to write a fairly comprehensive "life story," my own personal recollections needed some assistance. So I wrote to his foster son—Bishop Henry Newton, of Dogura, Samarai, Papua—asking him a series of questions in regard to facts, dates, etc., and also as to whether my tentative suggestion to write a biography met with his approval.

This it did, and he promptly sent me about a dozen typewritten sheets containing much desirable and useful information which I now propose to amalgamate with my own knowledge of the subject of this sketch.

Owing to his absence in England at Oxford University from 1889 to 1893 (inclusive) the Bishop is not quite certain of some of hits dates, but those given are approximately correct during the above period.

Frederick Robert Newton was born in June 1841 at Nailsea, Somerset, England, on the borders of Wraxall parish. His father was Robert Newton, a timber merchant and contractor, his mother a Miss Cox. He was a delicate child and suffered severely from asthma, which complaint affected him even during his Australian life, though it gradually lessened as he advanced in age. He was [1/2] the eldest of the family. The Newtons, father and sons, were cricketers and played village cricket against the Graces. One son, Stephen, got his "blue" at Cambridge during the seventies, and played for Somerset.

F. R. N. was sent to school in Germany at Neuvied on the Rhine, and became a good scholar. His knowledge of the language became useful many years later at Grafton when, as lay reader, he addressed German settlers in their own language at the little Carr's Creek church. In 1857 he was Confirmed in the Kaiser's grandfather's palace at Coblentz on the Rhine.

About this time his father thought of taking all his family to Australia or New Zealand to settle in one colony or the other, so, at the age of seventeen, Fred. was sent "to spy out the land." Soon after he left England his mother died at the birth of the youngest sister, and this caused the father to abandon the idea of taking his family to Australia, and Fred never again saw any of his own people except his brother Walter.

He reached Sydney by the S.S. "Great Britain" in 1858 and soon after landing got an appointment as assistant under master to Mr. J. F. Castle at Calder House School in Newtown. Mr. Castle was connected by marriage with the Newton family. The Master and my father, R. B. Dawson, were old friends, and this is how we came to know Mr. Newton who was still at Calder House when we lived at Burwood from November, 1867, to nearly the end of February, 1869. The night we left for the Clarence River in the steamboat "Grafton" (Captain Mann) Mr. Newton came down to see us off and gave me a book called "Three Months Rustication or Mr. Sudbury's Adventures in the Highlands of Scotland." I read and re-read it, and even to-day its incidents are fresh in my memory.

Here let us digress for a moment to state that a year or two later his elder brother—Walter Stephen Newton—also left England for the Southern hemisphere. He travelled via Panama and crossed the isthmus after de Lesseps had made his attempt to cut a canal. From there he took a boat to the Frazer River gold-fields and, after some time, came on to Australia and thence to New Zealand kauri-gum diggings and eventually returned to Australia some time in the sixties. He then visited the Manning and Richmond Rivers looking for suitable land upon which to settle, and finally took up, "free-selected," 320 acres in the Big Scrub, about seven miles from Lismore. The block had frontage to both the Lismore-Ballina road and to Marom Creek and was secured in the year 1869. Thus W. S. Newton became one of the earliest pioneer settlers in that part of the Big Scrub. He named the place Brockley, in memory of Brockley Coombe, Somerset, near where he was born.

[3] To now return to F. R. Newton. The date upon which he left Mr. Castle and Calder House is not certain, but it was probably about the end of 1869 or early in 1870 when he went to Bowen in Queensland and, his adopted son thinks, there he did some station jackerooing and overlanding, but did not stay long and soon returned to Sydney. His son continues:

"He then had a mastership in Eaglesfield School, at Darlinghurst, owned by W. J. Stephens, afterwards Professor Stephens, of Sydney University. He was a great scholar and a graduate of Queen's College, Oxford, his knowledge was almost boundless and he could lecture on almost any subject in the University course. He came out as the first head-master of the Sydney Grammar School, and it is said he had some dispute with the governing body about corporal punishment which he would not inflict, the result was that he opened a private school, calling it Eaglesfield, from old Queen's College associations. F.R.N. left Eaglesfield to open the Grammar School in Grafton. He left on the night that Charles Stephens, the engineer, was born.

From Mr. C. H. Bertie, a well known authority on "old" Sydney, and from Miss Ethel Stephens, of Merrow Down Appin, I gratefully acknowledge the following information. "Professor W. J. Stephens became headmaster of the Sydney Grammar School in 1856, and resigned about 1866. He established a school in Darlinghurst Road, which was known as "The New School." Miss Stephens writes: "My father built first the school on the west side of Darlinghurst Road, then the outbuildings and gymnasium, opening school there in 1367. But he resided on the east side until the school house was built. The name was "The New School," and it was not changed to Eaglesfield until 1879, three years before Stephens became Professor at the University.) It is thus evident that when F. R. Newton was attached to it in 1870 it was called The New School. Stephens died on November 22, 1890." Miss Stephens also informs me that her brother Charles was born on December 16, 1870, which was the date upon which Mr. Newton left Sydney for the Clarence River. It is therefore almost certain that he opened the Grafton Grammar School about the end of January, 1871. It is certain he was there in August for my father (R. B. Dawson) writing from Grafton on the 14th. says: "Met Mr. Newton who took tea with me at Holmsten's Hotel." And again, a little later, he mentions "the school built by Mr. Thomas Bawden in Villiers Street and let to Mr. Newton." Mr. R. C. Law, Hony. Secretary to the Clarence River Historical Society, says that he lived for a time in a little brick place in Queen Street and kept school in an outbuilding pending the building in Villiers Street. He carried on this school until the end of 1874 and during the previous three years, at holiday time, he usually rode across to the Richmond to visit his brother Walter at Brockley in the Big Scrub. On these [3/4] trips he often brought two or three school boys with him and made the Dawson's home, Bentley, between Casino and Lismore, a stopping place either for lunch or for the night. Near the end of June, 1874, my brother Arthur and I were sent from Bentley to the Grafton Grammar School. From Casino we travelled to Lawrence, on the Clarence, by Vesper's coach, 50 miles, our companions being Archie and John Campbell from Tunstall, and J. M. Grime from Casino, also bound for the same school. We had to spend a day at Lawrence and spent it boating on the Clarence and helping ourselves to stalks of sugar cane from river bank farms. The cane we peeled, and crushed the pith with our teeth, thus extracting the sweet delicious juice. Next day a river steamer took us to our destination and we were duly introduced to the big school dormitory in the Parsonage garden, though for a week Arthur and I slept at the Parsonage while beds, etc., were being got ready for us at the Boarders' domicile where, when all assembled, there were 14 occupants including the Master who slept in a small attached room to the main building. The Rector was the Revd. Josiah Spencer—an Englishman and a College man, Cambridge I think. He had been married about three years to an Australian Miss Perry, of Bendemere, New England, and they had one little daughter named Edith. The Rector's sister—Miss M. Spencer—also lived with the family.

What financial arrangement Mr. Newton had with Revd. Spencer I never heard, though he might have been a "sleeping" partner in the school as well as acting as Mathematics Master to a few of the older and more forward boys. At all events we all had our meals at the Rectory and sat down seventeen to table every day.

The Rectory maid-servants also looked after the dormitory—making beds, sweeping, dusting, etc. A gardener was kept, also a milking cow, and two small patches of Lucerne were grown for the latter. In the rich river bank soil, for which Grafton is famous, Lucerne flourished, and when the gardener's scythe got to the end of the second patch, the far end of the first patch was a couple of feet high and again ready for cutting.

The names of the thirteen boarders were: Joseph, Charles and Henry Campbell of Grafton, A. and J. Campbell of Tunstall, J. J. Cohen (now judge Cohen), Alfred Small of Ulmarra, Davison (or Davidson) of Lawrence, James Westmore, Tom Perry of Bendemere, J. Marsden Grime Casino, and A. D. and R. L. Dawson of Bentley, R. R. Day boys, as far as I can remember, were E. H. and Tom Bawden, James, Robert and Phillip Donaldson (sons of the District Surveyor), Noel Hill, Frank Purdy, John Brownhill, G. Lange; and there may have been a few others whose names I have forgotten.

[5] About our life at the school and dormitory I have vivid recollections, though perhaps few of these happenings directly concern the Master whose "Life Story" I am telling. However, a few may be worth recording even at the cost of a slight departure from the main theme of our story.

The Church of England, an old wooden building, then stood in the Parsonage garden on the Victoria Street frontage, but the building of a Cathedral on the opposite side of the street was in contemplation. The proposed site was covered by scrub and lantana, and Mr. Newton took a contract for clearing it—the boy boarders to do the work. So on evenings and Saturday afternoons we duly hacked scrub and tough lantana, and by our exertions earned enough money to buy a four-oar second-hand racing gig and to build a shed in which to house it. We already had a serviceable but rather .heavy boat called the "Princess," but of course the gig soon became first favourite, and much fun and healthful exercise we got from it. Six or seven professional scullers were then in training for the great regatta to be held at Grafton in October 1874. Our best crew occasionally gave Elias Laycock spins to help him in his training. On one occasion he offered to let some of the boys, who were good swimmers, have a try in his outrigger. Jack Campbell and J. J. Cohen took advantage of the offer, but neither got far before capsizing souse into the Clarence! Laycock then got in and showed us how to balance and steady the frail craft, when she began to wobble, by placing the oar blades flat on the water by a quick turn of the wrists. Both gigs and single oar racing boats had fixed seats-sliding seats were unknown in those days.

There was a record crowd at Grafton for the championship of Australia race which Mick Rush won easily with Laycock second and Trickett third. Just before reaching the winning mark Rush snatched off his cap and waved it to the cheering crowds who were delighted to see the local man win. Late in the evening Trickett and his trainer came to the Parsonage garden to get a boat which the tide had left high and dry. I helped them launch it for the light skiff race which Trickett won. He called me "sonny," and interestedly I watched the big muscles of a future world champion roll up and down his long sinewy arms as he stripped to his singlet. During the day, Mr. Spencer took our gig out for a row with an amateur crew. He rowed stroke, then J. C. Irving of Tomki, Richmond River, also an ex-Cambridge man, number 3 a Mr. Purves of Grafton, and No. 4 someone whose name, I forget. One of the school boys acted as cox.

For the Michaelmas holidays Mr. Newton. took a party of us to the Clarence Heads for a week by river steamer, with a boat in tow to within about 12 miles of heads where at dawn we had to leave the [5/6] steamer and row the rest of the way against a strong head wind with no breakfast to fortify us for the task. It seemed an interminable time but eventually we got there and had a good time at the Heads fishing and sea bathing.

Mention of bathing reminds me that with the Clarence at the foot of the Parsonage garden we spent much of our spare time in the sport of swimming. There my brother and I were taught to swim by the other boarders who were accomplished in the art before we arrived. We were not supposed to bathe on Sunday afternoons, but when the Master and the Spencers were absent, the temptation was too much for us. One Sunday afternoon we were having a high time with much shouting and laughter, when suddenly a big policeman appeared on the scene! He grabbed our clothes, tucked them under his arm, ordered us out of the water, and told us to give him our names. He also informed us that neighbours had reported us to the police for making an unseemly noise on Sunday afternoons. It was a fearful and anxious moment for us, but had there been an onlooker the sight of a dozen dripping and stark naked boys, clustered round the "boy in blue," begging and pleading to be let off "just this once" and we would never offend again, must have had its comical side, though it was more tragic than comic to the culprits. Eventually we were let off, our clothes were restored, and off went the constable with a back flung warning to "look out" if he caught us a second time. The warning proved effective, and there was no more sabbath desecration of this particular kind.

Just before closing for Christmas 1874 the School gave an entertainment which was well attended, at one of the public halls. For some weeks the Master had carefully trained the boys, and most of them took to their parts with spirit and intelligence, and gave a very good rendering of them. A couple of farces were staged, and a scene from "Midsummer Night's Dream." In "Box and Cox," little Davison took Mrs. Bouncer, and J. Cohen and Jim Westmore (or Tom Perry—I am not sure which) acted the name parts. In the "Area Belle," Marsden Grime was the Belle, John Campbell the sturdy milkman, and, I think Noel Hill and Tom Perry the cupboard loving policemen. I cannot remember who acted the lady of the house. In the Shakesperian comedy most of the school took part. I was the Duke—wearing knee breeches and a pair of Mrs. Spencer's white stockings. The future Bishop Henry Newton—then Harry Wilkinson—eight years old, excellently filled the role of Puck the Fairy. But the star actor of the whole evening was his elder brother Tom Wilkinson—an ex pupil, who was superb as "Bully Bottom" the weaver. In the "Area Belle" Marsden Grime made a pretty and attractive girl until he began to walk. He forgot that girls in those days walked with short and mincing steps, so [6/7] that when he strode across the stage with strides about a yard long, and stretched his skirts in doing so, he "gave the show away" so far as portraying a mincing maiden was concerned.

It was at this time that Mr. Newton sold out his Grafton interests to, I think, a Mr. R. W. Thornton, and removed to his brother's sugar cane farm at Brockley, in the Big Scrub, where he opened a school at end of January 1875. Some of the Grafton boys followed him—my brother and I, J. Campbell, J. M. Grime, G. Lange, H. Wilkinson and Gus Gregory. Lange and Gus only stayed three months and left at Easter. Another boarder was Herbert Little from Ballina. Charles and George Moore, rode every day from Jeswoolgen where their father—Mr. James Moore—had a sugar mill (Wade & Moore) and a young Smith walked from Wollongbar. I do not recollect any other scholars. A Miss Fowler was the Matron and for the first three months she had as companion a young girl from Grafton—Gus Gregory's sister.

Here it becomes necessary to again quote from Bishop Newton's recollections:—

"During the time that F.R.N. was at Calder House, amongst the many friends he made were the Fowler family. The father was Captain Fowler who was engaged in whaling operations in the South Seas, I think he was in partnership with Bobby Towns of Queensland fame who started Townsville in that State, but I am not sure. Mrs. Fowler was a daughter of the Rev. R. Cartwright who came out in 1810 and was, amongst other places, for some time Vicar of Liverpool. There is, I believe, a son of old Robert Cartwright still alive about Goulburn, if not a son, a grandson. Miss Cartwright was sent to England to the Clergy Daughters' School near Liverpool-a school Charlotte Bronte describes in 'Jane Eyre.' The picture painted by the novelist was so vivid that years after when Mrs. Fowler read the book she recognised the school under another name. Later Mrs. Fowler married as her second husband Dr. Hansard—at that time one of the leading gynecologists in Sydney. In 1870, James Fowler, one of Captain Fowler's sons, took up a selection, near to Brockley, and his sisters used to come up and stay with him, travelling on the sailing boats which traded from Sydney. They landed at Ballina and came up in a rowing boat to a wharf then near the head of Duck Creek, thence by horse to the farm. All carriage of goods, etc., was then by bullock waggon from Lismore. (I think there used to be a Fowler's wharf in Darling Harbour.)

"The upshot of these visits by the Fowler sisters was that W. S. Newton married the second daughter—Mary Jane—in August, 1878. There were two daughters by this marriage—[7/8] one has died, the elder is Mrs. Handley still living on, the old farm (Brockley) with her children two sons and a daughter. They are, of course, great, great, grandchildren of Robert Cartwright." So writes the Bishop.

Now I take up, or continue, the story from the opening of school at Brockley in January 1875. We, the boarders, slept in a fairly large room at east end of the cottage which was built, if I remember rightly, of sawn timber throughout except the roof which was of the usual split shingles. Of the 320 acres of dense brush land, perhaps a hundred acres or thereabouts had been cleared and burnt off. The greater part of this was under grass and the balance grew sugar cane and, I think, a little maize and vegetables. The grass land carried a few milking cows, four working bullocks, Nugget and Brown the polers, with Spanker and Leopard the leaders, and a few saddle horses. A small creek of purest water meandered through the property, there was one fair sized pool in it where we could plunge and bathe and swim for a few yards. It was a tributary to Marom Creek which was what land surveyors call "a frontage creek"—that is free-selected blocks could have frontage to it but could not cross it. From the cottage one could see no great distance in any direction because of the great mass of still standing trees and brushwood which surrounded the clearing. Great hopes then prevailed amongst the Big Scrub settlers that the sugar industry would be a financial success but, alas, this was not to be. Porch Bros. then had a small steam driven sugar mill under a mile from Brockley and not only treated their own cane but that of Walter Newton and other neighbours. I believe that Walter drew all the machinery for this mill from Lismore with his bullock team—a difficult job in the then almost roadless condition of the district. We boys often visited Porch's mill and watched the centrifugal whirling round. We also consumed a good deal of molasses which came from it. We got fond of it and, instead of sugar, used it with porridge, boiled rice and other puddings. At night, when filing off to bed after prayers, we each picked up a substantial slice of bread and molasses from a plate which stood on a chair near the doorway. It seemed to be wholesome food, animals fatten on it and from its use, mixed with chaff, horses acquire rich and glossy coats. To schoolboys, such as ourselves, Brockley was by no means a dull or unattractive place to live in, The Master allowed us a very fair amount of liberty, that is out of school hours, and when we dropped our books we could play various games or, better still, roam the beautiful and glorious brush "without let or hindrance." The brush teemed with bird life from brush turkeys and pigeons to the gorgeous yellow and black regent birds, called "Yelgun" (the sun) by the aboriginals. Occasionally we were allowed to visit Lismore. One Saturday we walked in, over seven miles, to a circus, and walked [8/9] back the same night, and a tired crew we were when we reached our dormitory in the small hours.

At Easter Mr. Newton took us all to Ballina for a week and we camped in an empty cottage at the Pilot Station. We had a wonderfully enjoyable time surf bathing, fishing and tingling. I wonder whether Ballina boys still tingle? A tingle is a flat piece of iron, or stiff tin, about three inches across. Barelegged to above the knees, with the tingle held between finger and thumb, one cautiously follows up the shoals of mullet which swim into shallow water. When close enough the tingle is thrown hard edgeways into the shoal. In about a hundred throws perhaps four or five small fish might be bagged. But it was the pursuit and thrills of expectation which buoyed us up and made the sport so interesting and intriguing, rather than the actual slaughter. We built a log cabin, roofed with bark, in the brush close to the Lismore-Ballina road. One wet Saturday we spent the day therein trying to make lemon jam. We bought some rough-skin lemons, cut them up and took out the seeds, put them in a billycan with a little water and plenty of brown sugar, and then boiled and stirred for hours and hours. The result was a woeful failure and not even hungry boys could eat that awful and sticky compound, the exceeding bitterness of which still lingers in my memory.

Mr. Newton for some years had been a lay reader of the Church of England, and on occasional Sunday afternoons we walked with him and the Matron to various homes—the Dones, Rishworths, and others, for afternoon services. Sometimes these walks were unpleasant owing to the wet pathways and sticky red soil. If rain came, the tracks did not dry for weeks as the sun could not penetrate because of the dense overhead foliage.

It is a fact that in the early seventies a visitor to Lismore could pick out a Big Scrub cedar getter by his pale and bleached countenance—so different to the brown and bronzed faces of men who worked in the open country. Sometimes men toiled in the shade and gloom of the brushes for months at a stretch and rarely felt the sunshine. And yet life in these sylvan solitudes was not unhealthful, and personally I do not recollect ever hearing of any cases of fever or malaria. Certainly, a few years after Brockley School closed down, Charley and George Moore of Jeswoolgen (near Alstonville) died within a few days of typhoid, and their brother Arthur nearly went, but this tragic happening was no fault of the Big Scrub climate; it was found to be due to other causes.

At Christmas 1875 school life for the Brockley boarders came to an end, except for young Harry ("Billycans" we nicknamed him) whom Mr. Newton soon after adopted. The Master himself began to study and prepare for Church ministry, though he was [9/10] not quite done with scholastic life, as will be told later on. Walter Newton continued with his farm but, like all other settlers in the Big Scrub, he must have had a hard and lean time between the failure of the sugar industry and the inception of dairying which soon brought improved conditions. Bishop Newton tells me that during one of the bad years, W.S.N. said he did not clear more than £5 for his farm work during the twelve months!

Before closing my part of the "Life Story" and continuing with the Bishop's recollections, I must write something about the revered Master's personality and general characteristics from my point of view. What was the secret of his remarkable power and influence over boys and growing youths? Why, when they left his control, did they never cease to regard him, or the memory of him, not only with respect; but with regard and affection? Judge Cohen with whom, after nearly 64 years, I recently foregathered, and talked over our school days and old times, has the very highest opinion of the old Master's fine character, and spoke of him with warmth and enthusiasm. He was about three years under Mr. Newton, and told me he never knew him to resort to corporal punishment. Nor can I recollect any instance of his striking a boy in anger. How then did he preserve control, both with day boys and boarders? Perhaps the following may be some of the reasons:— He was fearless; absolutely just; he had, himself, iron self control, he could be very stern at times but was withal kind hearted and generous; moreover, he could look at calmly, and clearly weigh, both sides of a question before giving his decision; finally, he had that invaluable possession—a keen sense of humour, not noisy or exuberant, but of the quiet kind. To illustrate some of his ways, let me tell two or three incidents of our school days.

At Grafton, one day, the Master was giving a lesson to the junior class when he asked if anyone could tell him the difference between a surname and a nickname. Little Tom Bawden held up his hand and said "please, sir, a nickname is a surname." "Oh, no, it isn't," said the Master, "for instance my nickname is F. R. Baldy, but it isn't my surname." We seniors glanced guiltily at one another, one or two began to giggle, and in no time the whole school burst into a roar of laughter in which the Master heartily joined. He had a long and well-kept brown beard but had gone bald early, his nickname certainly was "F. R. Baldy," but we hadn't the faintest idea that he knew anything of it until his knowledge was sprung on us so suddenly.

The Master impressed upon us the subtle difference between "can" and "may." A pupil might knock at a door and say "Can I come in, please, Mr. Newton?" Voice, from inside, somewhat sarcastic in tone, "Well, I suppose you can if you are able to open [10/11] the door." Voice, outside, "May I come in, sir?" "Yes, you may."

The Parsonage Grafton garden contained many magnificent orange trees heavily laden with golden fruit. There was more fruit than could possibly be used by the household, but the Spencers never offered any to the boarders (except in the way of marmalade), so naturally we helped ourselves and raided the trees at every opportunity. The authorities appeared to "wink the other eye" at our depredations, and so far as we were aware took no notice of them. But when the delicious fruit from some flatstone peach trees, which grew temptingly close to the dormitory, was rifled, trouble arose. The gardener, who had seen tell-tale tracks under the trees, reported to the Spencers who were furious and complained to Mr. Newton, and there was a great rumpus. It resulted in the Master mustering us in the dormitory one Saturday morning; pens, ink and paper were served out, and we were told to write, and sign, a promise that "upon our words of honour" we would never again touch the peaches. Pens were scratching away when suddenly Tom Perry (Mrs. Spencer's brother) stood up and said, "Please, sir, I shouldn't have to write and sign this promise, my sister says I can have as much fruit as I like." I never saw Mr. Newton look so angry. At once he said "tear up your papers and put away your pens, I'm not going to have fish, flesh, and fowl made of my boys; either all sign, or no one signs. Dismiss!" Greatly relieved, off we went to discuss the matter outside, but the upshot was that we were loyal to our Master and the peaches were never again interfered with.

Personally, I only once incurred the Master's severe displeasure, so far as I can recollect, and that was at Brockley on the eve of holidays. I had a bad habit, when going to bed, of dropping my rather heavy boots noisily on the floor and in that thin walled wooden cottage the sound carried all over it. I had been reproved for this more than once but, being very excited about the prospect of leaving next morning for the holidays, I forgot all about my boots and dropped them on the floor with a loud bang and rattle. A stern voice came from the next room, "Is that you, Robert, making that noise?" Myself, timidly, "Yes, sir." "You will write out the whole of the first book of Caesar before leaving for the holidays tomorrow"!! This was a terrible and crushing blow, but I had sense enough to realise that the Master generally meant what he said and that the best thing to be done was to get to the job as quickly as possible. So next day I rose at dawn and by breakfast time had perhaps a fourth, or a little more, of the job behind me. As soon as the table was cleared I again got at it. Presently the Master strolled in, looked over my shoulder, and said, "What are you doing, Robert?" "That task you set me last night, sir." With that he smiled and said "Oh, well, put it away now, and leave for your [11/12] holidays with the other boys." Gladly I dropped the "Noble Roman" and prospects for the day turned from gloom to joy and brightness.

Now it is time for Bishop Newton to take up the thread of the story and describe in detail his foster father's career from the end of 1875 onwards. I quote from the Bishop's own script.

F.R.N. had decided to take Holy Orders, and during 1876 was doing lay work. He was ordained Deacon at the Advent Ordination 1876 by Bishop Turner at Armidale, and worked on the Richmond as a Deacon. He was Priested at the Advent Ordination 1877 at Armidale by the same Bishop. He was then in charge of church work on the Richmond, Brunswick and Tweed, the parish extending from Ballina on the coast to the dividing range between the Richmond and Clarence, with all stations on the heads of the Richmond up to Unumgar; all townships in this huge district including places like Wollongbar, Alstonville and Teven to be visited. For three years he was constantly travelling on horseback—morning service at Casino, evening at Lismore, with perhaps an en-route service at Disputed Plains. Next week morning service at Ballina, evening at Lismore, or vice versa, with a service on the way at Wollongbar.

About 1878 onwards he had the help of the Rev. Henry. Porter —a graduate of Cambridge and an old merchant Taylor's boy who had been at school with Archdeacon Coles, "Child of Morteyh" (sic). Mr. Porter had come out to work under Bishop Broughton but had never taken a parish, he thus was not on the list of early clergymen who received, up to the time of their death, the Government allowance originally given to clergymen. He had spent all his time as tutor to families, and was for some time at Port Macquarie. When he joined F.R.N. on the Richmond he soon took over the Casino end of the parish, though F.R.N. was responsible for the whole district. During the years between 1877 and 1880 Ballina, Wardell, Woodburn, Coraki and the church at Lismore were enlarged with large vestries attached. When Casino was made into a separate parish Mr. Porter lived in one of these vestries.

The first visit to the Tweed was made in 1878, when F.R.N. with Mr. Porter and the young adopted son, rode over the old Nightcap road. The first camp was at Dorroughby Grass, in the hut of a timber getter. No one was at home, and Harry, being the smallest of the party, had to be got through the unfastened shutter to open the door. Murwillumbah was a very small place in those days and the horses had to be swum over the South Arm to get to Kynumboon. F.R.N. and his adopted son made their way to the Heads, then little more than a pilot station, the trip down the river being made from the junction in a boat.

There was a famine of foodstuffs on the Tweed at the time, [12/13] no boat had come from Brisbane for some months, but one arrived as the parson's party was on its way to the Heads.

Other trips to the Tweed were made over Nightcap and on one, when a new road cutting was being made, F.R.N. lead his horse up to it, the working men saw him go by and remarked "he will soon see he cannot get that way." They were having their lunch in camp and F.R.N. did not see them. Going up the cutting his horse slipped on some rocks, fell down a precipice, and was badly staked; calls brought the workmen to rescue. The horse was got up again and the old road taken.

Other journeys to the Tweed were made along the sea beach from Ballina, and on that track there was always danger from quicksands.

In 1878 Mr. Newton engaged Mr. Robert Laverty as tutor for his adopted son, and some other boys were taken as well—some as boarders, some as day pupils. A cottage owned by Mr. Wotherspoon was rented, just behind the concrete house at the corner of Molesworth Street on the Newtown side. The concrete building was erected by Mr. Currie and it was there that Dr. Parker lived with his sisters. In one of the floods the bank was washed away nearly to the corner of the fence round Dr. Parker's house, and for a long time there was room for foot and horse traffic only.

While F.R.N. was living in Lismore there was a bad epidemic of typhoid, one of the sufferers was Father Doyle—afterwards R.C. Bishop of Lismore.

At the end of the year 1879 Mr. Newton left the Richmond and became Rector of Wollombi in the Diocese of Newcastle, Bishop Pearson being then the Bishop in succession to Bishop Tyrell. Mr. Porter and Mr. Laverty went with him to Wollombi, and there Mr. Laverty was in charge of a small school at the Rectory, some of his old Richmond River friends being anxious to have their sons under F.R.N.'s influence. There were three Lopez boys (sons of R. E. de B. Lopez of Koolool)—Frederick, Henry and Willie, Henry Wilson—son of H. O'Brien Wilson of Invercauld, and two sons of James Moore of Jeswoolgen—Arthur and William. There were one or two others and three proteges F.R.N. could never resist taking care of those who had no one to care for them!! Mr. Laverty returned to the Richmond in 1882 and lived at Goonelabah. Soon after that the school was closed and the boys sent home. The Wollombi parish included the Macdonald River and some places on the Hawkesbury besides all the valleys in the Wollombi district. During part of the time F.R.N. was there the Rev. Albert Maclaren—later to be founder of the New Guinea Mission—was Rector of St. Paul's, Ipswich.

[14] After leaving Wollombi in 1884 F.R.N. returned to the Richmond. He had made himself one of the guarantors at the bank for one or more of the churches he had built when in charge of that parish, and the bank was asking for settlement. He went back to clear off the debts and then was for a year curate at All Saints, Parramatta, the Rector being the Rev. John Bloomfield. The following year he was curate to the Rev. C. F. Priddle at Liverpool, and then once again returned to the Richmond—but not for long.

His next move was to Brisbane, where he was curate at Wooloongabba to the Rector—Rev. David Ruddock. From there he went to Beaudesert and Beenleigh, and while there his kindness urged him to take charge of the three sons of a widow whose husband had been drowned. These three Dalke boys afterwards got employment under Mr. Robert Collins at Tamrookum. Mr. Collins had been a pupil at Calder House School when Mr. Newton was a Master there. The eldest boy Albert was later made manager of Carnarvon—one of the Collins' runs in the west of Queensland. There was a good deal of cattle duffing in the district, and when. Albert and the local policeman went to see about this, they were both murdered! The bodies were cut up on a big log and then burnt, with their clothes, but the ashes were sifted and some little things amongst them gave a clue and the murderers were arrested and sent to prison. The ashes were kept for some time by the police and then were handed over to the relatives to be buried. Mr. Robert Collins built a beautiful memorial church at Tamrookum, and in the cemetery round it the ashes were buried.

Mr. Newton then went to Gayndah and worked in that huge district till 1893, when his brother being very ill he decided to get back to the Richmond. He travelled to Brisbane in the flood waters of 1893. At the end of that year Henry Newton came back from England and he and his adopted father took charge of the parish of Esk in Queensland. The parish extended from Glamorgan Vale to the head of the Stanley in one direction, and to Barambah in the Burnet district. It was an immense area.

Walter Newton let his Brockley farm on shares and lived' with his brother at Esk, his wife and two girls being also with him. Mr. Porter was on his way to join his old friend when he took ill and died in the home of Mrs. Richard Boding, Springhill, near Casino.

After leaving Esk in 1899, F.R.N. did some relieving work in the diocese of Brisbane at Roma and other places on the Downs, and then got back to his old love~-the Richmond. Meanwhile his adopted son had gone from Esk as a Missionary to New Guinea, where his old friend of West Maitland days—Albert Maclaren—had laid down his life in 1891.

[15] After returning to the Richmond, F.R.N. did some relieving work and then took charge for a short time of the parish of Coraki. Later he was Vicar of Nimbin, and that was his last parish. There he built the beautiful church, one of the best of the wooden churches on the Richmond.

After vacating Nimbin he lived with his brother at Brockley, giving occasional help to clergy in the neighbourhood, and visiting old friends, not simply in a social way, he was always a priest of the Church of God.

He died on April 23rd, 1926, his brother Walter having predeceased him by about three weeks, and the two lie side by side in the Wollongbar Cemetery.

Wherever F.R.N. went, and especially wherever as a priest he ministered, he won in a marvellous way the love and confidence of the people, and in every place there are those who not only reverence, but love his memory. He was always so gentle, and withal could be firm and stern. Perhaps what he loved most to do, after celebration at the altar, was to visit the schools and give the children lessons in scripture and doctrine, also to visit the sick. His powers of self-sacrifice were very great indeed. He loved and was loved, and his personal influence no one can measure—it was so great and wide. Bishop Webber once said, "If things are wrong in a parish in any way, Newton will put them right."

This ends what Bishop Newton has to say, and it will be seen that in his conclusion he pays his adopted father a high, well-deserved and just tribute. One might go even further and write of him as Kipling wrote of a friend who had passed away—I quote from memory:—

"E'en as he trod that day to God
So walked he from his birth
In simpleness, and gentleness,
And honour, and clean mirth."

Bishop Newton could not give much information about F.R.N.'s last charge—the parish of Nimbin, north west of Lismore—so I wrote to Mrs. S. A. West of that town and parish. I knew that she was a great church worker and also a leading spirit in collecting funds when the Nimbin parishioners, about three or four years ago, decided to erect a memorial in their church to their late beloved pastor. Mrs. West not only sent me interesting information about Mr. Newton's work in the parish, but she also loaned me a series of his letters to her written from Brockley and bearing dates from September 10, 1913, to March 20, 1919. They are chiefly business letters dealing with church matters and also with a cottage which he owned in Nimbin and which, after he left there, Mrs. West looked after and collected the rent, etc.

[16] There are odd paragraphs in these letters worth preserving and a few brief quotations will be taken from them and included herein. Mrs. West's letter, or rather a copy of it, slightly condensed, will also be included and will be a fitting conclusion to this "Life Story."

First taking the letter series—Nothing of moment in those of September 10 and October 22, 1913, except a reference to Mrs. West's wedding day—he evidently married the couple during that year. She was a Miss Morton.

March 6th, 1914. "Since seeing you I have been about and away from home most of the time, my niece Mary was with us. First for a month on duty at Woodburn, then to the election at Grafton and since then at Ballina whither I am going again to-day. When I shall reach Nimbin again I know not. March 19 will find us all at Grafton again and on Easter Day I am to be at Kyogle." Note.—The "election" mentioned above was doubtless an ecclesiastical one and not political.

May 26th, 1914. "I see by the papers that on Whit-Sunday there is to be a golden and silver offering in aid of the debt on the church. I wish you all success in that venture of faith and trust the effort to wipe out the overdraft will be quite successful. Would you please put into the plate my mite, I enclose it with this? I hear your new post office is finished. I am sure it will be a great convenience. My license to minister expired on the division of the diocese of Grafton and Armidale, and I do not contemplate applying for a new one for the diocese of Grafton. At any rate, not for a time, as my holding services here and there means either causing my brother to travel about, when he is not fit for it, or leaving him all alone at home."

Letter of September 17th, 1915. "I think you will be having a celebration of Holy Communion on Tuesday next with prayer for my son who is to be consecrated on that day at Brisbane. I want your mother, you, and Sid, to make a point of being present on that occasion and praying God to enable my son to be faithful to the end."

December 20th, 1915. "Thank you, my brother and I are well at present. On Sunday I celebrated at 8 a.m. at Alstonville, 11 at Wollongbar, and said Evensong at Dalwood at 2 p.m. On Christmas Day I am to celebrate at Tregeagle at 9 a.m., and Wollongbar at 11 a.m. Had not my horse got sick I should be celebrating at St. Thomas, The Plains, Casino road on Sunday next (26th). So you see I am not dead yet."

April 14th, 1916. "I am going to send to your mother, if she will accept it, a photo of my brother, my son Harry and myself, taken by Harry's wife when they were down from New Guinea and before they went on to Carpentaria."

[17] September 18th, 1916. "My son is to be in Sydney from October 4th to 20th, after that he will spend eleven days in the Armidale Diocese, confirming, and then he talks of coming to Brockley for two or three days on his way to Queensland, but as he has to leave Brisbane for the north on November 10th I fear we shall not see much of him."

February 8th, 1917. "I hope to get to Nimbin for H.C. on the first Sunday of next month, but am not certain about it yet. So many of our charge have gone to the war that those left behind are hard put to it to cover the ground, and I am trying to help them."

June 22nd, 1917. "I have been on the sick list, bronchitis, bad back, and heart giving way. First Sunday in June they motored me to Eltham and Clunes to hold services. I caught cold and had to go down. I am getting played out!! Last Sunday I ventured to Rous for service, but again caught cold. However, I hope to be well soon." In this letter he also mentions having his niece and her three children down from Queensland for ten weeks, and he evidently found the noise made by the youngsters rather trying "in the little wooden cottage at Brockley, which is like a drum for sound."

December 18th, 1917. "I am truly glad to think that you will have a resident clergyman at Nimbin before Christmas, and I trust he will be a suitable man for the district. Mr. Thomas was to fill the gap at Nimbin some time back, but he was unable to do so owing to sickness."

June 25th, 1918. "I don't know how to thank you for all the trouble you are taking to keep St. Mark's Cottage, Nimbin, a going concern. It was certainly satisfactory to know that in these hard times the rent has been raised to 12/- a week and that the present occupant is an honest tenant. I am very grateful to you."

"Going to Disputed Plains the other day to dedicate some Holy Vessels, my horse knocked up and the poor beast died on the following Tuesday. It was a great loss to me, he suited me so well. However, my good brother has got me another which he bought from Wansdale who manages for Peter Shipway. I think the animal will suit me."

"Letters of November 20, 29 and December 12, 1918, discuss with Mrs. West the sale of his cottage, the purchasers apparently being the Parish District of Nimbin with a view to providing a Rectory for future use. In letter of December 12, Mr. Newton writes, "I am sorry but very glad (if you can understand) to part with the place. Sorry because it is the only bit of property I have ever owned, but very glad that the house and land in question of, I think, the pick of Nimbin, is being transferred to the Church." [17/18] He also mentions that two of his brother's children—Mary and Dick Lee are coming to Brockley for their Christmas holidays. A later letter states that Mrs. Handley, with a child, also came from Queensland to meet them. "My brother and I found Brockley rather dull after the crowd had cleared out."

"My brother's tenant—Peter Shipway—is now occupying old Brockley house." This suggests that a new house had, at some time, been built.

"P.S. Mosquitoes here are worse than ever known at Brockley hitherto." (I know, of my own experience, that these special mosquito plagues did occasionally occur on the Richmond. Two in particular, in my time, at Booerie in the summer of 1873-74, and at Bentley in the first three months of 1887.)

Letter of March 17th, 1919. "Just a line to say that the P.D. of Nimbin is now in full possession of St. Mark's Cottage and its two acres, which is now safe in the keeping of the Diocesan Trustees."

March 20th, 1919 (last of the series). He writes to Mrs. West to condole with her and her family concerning the loss of their house which, rumour tells them, has been burnt down. The rumours are somewhat vague and he concludes "Please write me a few lines giving particulars."

All these letters are couched in most courteous terms characteristic of the thorough gentleman who wrote them. Occasionally he indulges in a little quiet fun and "chaff."

In conclusion, there is a printed circular letter dated March 7th, 1919. It is addressed to "The Parishioners of the P.D. of Nimbin and Jiggi cum-Goolmangar, cum-Keerrong, etc.," and part of it may be worth quoting. First he acknowledges the balance of purchase money for St. Mark's Cottage and its two acres, and then continues, "When, as I often do, I come to look back on the early history of Nimbin, I recognise that there are reasons for thankfulness. For instance, at the time when most of the settlers were newcomers, when farms had to be bought and cleared, markets were far off, returns small, money scarce, and roads awful, it was suggested to them to build a church (unlined and unfurnished) to cost some £400. Instead of straightaway going into "historical fits"* [*A lady suggests that this should read "hysterical fits." The above is exactly as it appears in Mr. Newton's printed circular.—R.L.D.] at the bare suggestion, the Nimbin Church people with brave hearts and the blessing of God, having first cleared the site (a gift of two acres) set to work and built their "House of Prayer," fenced the land substantially, furnished the new structure handsomely, and at that time when for long periods there was no resident minister among them. Let us all thank God for His goodness to us!!

"I am, dear friends,

"Yours sincerely,


[19] Here our story closes, but supplementary to what the Bishop and I have written is added Mrs. West's brief history of Church work and life at Nimbin from, approximately, 1904 to 1919, under the guiding hand of the subject of this sketch.

The memorial which she refers to as being erected in the Church in 1935 was of course to the memory of the late Rev. F. R. Newton. It was, I believe, dedicated in June of that year by Bishop Ashton of Grafton.

Original written by Mrs. S. A. West (Annie M. W.) of Nimbin, via Lismore, N.S.W.


"First came to Nimbin by himself driving a horse in a wagonette, and later in a sulky, somewhere about the end of 1904. He used to visit the parishioners and hold service in the hall on Sundays. At first I took my organ and played for the service, but after a year or more, I collected money enough from the people here, C. of E., Methodists and Presbyterians, to buy a new organ for use by all three churches when holding services in the hall. Mr. Newton was again visiting Nimbin and said he would like to get a piece of land on which to build a room to hold young men's meetings and to camp in instead of going into people's homes when all wet and so forth. The land where the church site now is had just been transferred from my father's name to mine, so mother and I at once said we would give him two acres for a church site. We told him to choose the spot. He was delighted, and at once approached his parishioners about clearing and fencing the land by "working bees," and as to raising funds for building a Church, St. Marks, by house to house collecting (houses far apart then), sales of gifts, etc., etc. The response was good from near and far. People in Queensland, the Collins Bros. of Tamrookum, and others about there, sent donations. The Church was built in 1909 and opened on June 16. The following year it was dedicated by Bishop Cooper, or Bishop Druitt I forget which—on September 16. Later a small Parish Hall was built close by at back of the Church. Mr. Newton donated most of the Chancel furniture. The solid silver Communion Service was given by Mrs. M. J. Morton, E. W. Morton and myself, in memory of my late father John Morton, who died in 1905. He was all his life a staunch Church member. The font was a memorial from the Cullen family. It was in marble. Later, in the sad days of the war, our young lay reader—Mr. George Parry—was killed. He was a young man of much promise who loved his Church work. His family erected a very nice pulpit to his memory. Later, several other donations were made, including a Bishop's chair by my uncle—W. J. Morton of Sydney. Then in 1935 the memorial altar, reredos, and altar rails were erected.

[20] "A set of brass vases (from the Cullen family), a brass cross (from returned soldiers), and two carved wooden palm stands were also added and dedicated. St. Mark's is nice and large, dadoed lining and varnished throughout. It is of Gothic style, and one of the most beautiful churches on the North Coast. Back in 1913 Mr. Newton asked me to sell him a new four-roomed cottage standing on two acres of land adjoining the Church property. He bought this and handed it over to the Church people for a rectory. So the Church and rectory stand on a four acre block on a nice rise fronting the main road Nimbin to Lismore, and just in the township of Nimbin.

"In 1925 I visited Mr. Newton and his brother at Brockley. The old gentleman was then very blind and feeble but so cheery and pleased to see me. A few months later (April, 1926) Mr. W. S. Newton died suddenly, and within another three weeks the Rev. Newton also passed away! It was a shock to all who knew the two grand old men.

"Recently our Rector—Rev. Palmer—has stained the Nimbin Church windows round the Sanctuary and the Baptistry very nicely, and representing scriptural pictures—very clever work."


Building Print, 20 Loftus St., Sydney.

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