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History of Murrumbateman (NSW), 1824-1960

School children, Empire Day, Murrumbateman, c. 1910 (image)

School children and teacher on the picnic ground, Murrumbateman,
on Empire Day, approximately 1910
(To see full sized photo, click here)

Source: Mrs. B. Carney collection of photographs of Murrumbateman school, New South Wales, 1895-1910.
This collection is located in the National Library of Australia, Canberra.

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The following essay was written by David J. Wagner in 1960.



Hume and Hovell discovered the Murrumbateman district in 1824 when on their famous overland journey from Gunning to Port Phillip Bay.

Early Settlement

Squatters followed in the tracks of the explorers and ran sheep in the Murrumbateman district. Various settlers then obtained grants of land in the area. Mr. and Mrs. George Davis settled at "Gounyan", Murrumbateman in 1828. John Terry obtained a 1,000 acre grant in 1829, and John Terry Hughes and Edward Terry each received grants of 1,000 acres in 1839. These three men, however, were residents of Sydney and did not live on their holdings. In 1832 Thomas Rose was given 700 acres on the Morumbateman [sic] Creek.

The Naming of Murrumbateman

The origin of the name of Murrumbateman is uncertain.

An earlier form of the name was Morumbateman, which is given in W. H. Well's Geographical Dictionary 1848, p. 269. In this it is described as "A creek of N.S.W., situated in the County of Murray; it flows into the Yass River near a hill called Cockatoo Hill." Bailliere's New South Wales Gazetteer 1866 also lists Morumbateman Creek described as "flowing in the east part of the Yass Plains, along the side of the road from Gundaroo to Yass."

A locally known version of the naming of Murrumbateman, that is upheld by a number of citizens of good standing, is as follows.

It appears that one of the district's pioneer inn-keepers was a Mr. Bateman. A local inebriate was said to traditionally order his drinks with a call for "More rum, Bateman." From this it is said Morumbateman, and later Murrumbateman, derived.

However, the similarity of Murrumbateman with other district names such as Murrumburrah and Murrumbidgee may suggest an Aboriginal origin of the name.

The Locality of Murrumbateman

The village of Murrumbateman was laid out in 1878. The number of occupied dwellings and the population recorded at each census of the Commonwealth from 1901 to 1954 are shown below.

Number recorded for Locality of Murrumbateman
at the census of:
2rd April
4th April
30th June
30th June

(a) Not available.

District Products

The earliest district activities were associated with sheep raising, wheat growing and mining.

To-day the major local product is wool, although cattle breeding and farming pursuits are also followed. Sir Walter Merriman of "Merryville" has made the Murrumbateman district of world renown in the output of high quality merino wool.

Geographical Data

Murrumbateman is located in the Southern Tablelands District of N.S.W. It is 12 miles from Yass and 26 miles from Canberra. Murrumbateman is situated on the Barton Highway, which is named after Sir Edmund Barton who was the first Prime Minister of Australia (1901--1903).

The elevation and average annual rainfall of the village are not accurately known, but it is assumed that they approximate the figures of the adjacent town of Yass, which are:
Elevation: 1,660 feet above sea level
Average Annual Rainfall: 24 inches

The geographical location of Murrumbateman is approximately 35.00 S latitude and 149.00 E longitude.

Murrumbateman School

The first school at Murrumbateman was a provisional school opened in either June or July 1869, with an enrolment of 30 pupils.

The Inspector from Goulburn visited the school on 28th March, 1870 and in his report he stated:

The building is constructed of split slabs and bark. Fencing, hat pegs, a map of the world, a blackboard, and an additional room to the teacher's residence are required. There is a fair supply of furniture and books, the general discipline is good, and the progress of the pupils in learning, for the short time they have been under instruction, is tolerably satisfactory.

By 1872 the school was elevated to the status of a public school and a new brick building was erected at a cost of £100. This brick building still stands beside the Murrumbateman residence, and remained in service until 1954, a period of 82 years.

October, 1954 saw the replacement of the "old" school by a modern weatherboard structure, located in another portion of the school grounds. This new school, equipped as it is with radiogram, amplifier, visual education equipment, tape recorder and so on, provides the present generation of Murrumbateman children with all the amenities of modern education.

The teachers in charge of the Murrumbateman School have included:

1874-1880 W. J. Chapman
1880-1882 George Vincent
1882-1884 Charles Mansfield
1884-1886 H. C. Brettnell
1886-1886 A. Grieve
1886-1890 Joseph Kelly
1890-1902 Clarence C. Dyce
1902-1908 William Fairley
1908-1909 E. C. Bluett
1909-1913 Henry Fraser
1913-1918 E. T. Gould
1919-1929 E. A. Connelly
1929-1936 Alan Daly
1937-1946 Patrick McGrath
1946-1948 Alfred Jenkin
1949-1952 Ian Wilson
1953-1960 David Wagner

History of Mining in the Murrumbateman District

Although gold, bismuth, manganese, cobalt and wolfram have been found in this district, only gold and bismuth have been mined to any extent.

James Remington, in 1897, is credited with the discovery of gold at Nanima Creek, 3 miles east of Murrumbateman village. However, the Nanima Creek goldfield had actually been worked for many years before this, but the government had not been notified.

The names of some of the local mines include the Caledon Gold Mine, the Cosmopolitan Mine and the Golden Betty Mine.


The place of first settlement in the Murrumbateman-Yass 'area is "Gounyan", a fertile 60 acre property with a frontage to the Murrumbateman Creek.

The original title deed of "Gounyan" records the fact that the property was granted to George Davis of Yass Plains in fulfilment of a promise made by Governor Lachlan Macquarie on or before 31st March, 1821.

The terms of the grant were that George Davis was to pay a quit-rent of one shilling sterling per annum for ever. The land could, however, be redeemed subject to certain conditions, one of which was that within five years either sixteen acres of the land was to be cleared and cultivated, or buildings, fences or other permanent improvements to the value of £80 sterling be erected on the property.

These requirements were satisfied by George Davis, as was stated in the Government Gazette dated 2nd February, 1836. The title deed was signed by Governor Sir Richard Bourke on the same date. This document is now in the custody of the present owner of "Gounyan", Mr. George Arthur Davis.

The original Mrs. George Davis, or "Grannie" Davis as she was known to her friends and relations, was born in Dorcetshire [Dorsetshire, Dorset - Ed.], England, in 1776. After a short marriage her first husband died. She was falsely convicted on a charge of having stolen a valuable watch chain and was thereupon deported to Australia under the notorious convict system, arriving in the colony in the year 1803 at the age of 27 years. [Recent family history research indicates different dates for the years when Mrs. George Davis, Snr. was born and arrived in Sydney. See commentary below - at the end of this essay. -- Ed.]

After it had been established that Mrs. Davis was in fact innocent of the theft of the watch chain, the humane Governor Lachlan Macquarie made the offer of the grant of land by way of compensation.

In the early 1820s she married George Davis, and the couple settled at "Gounyan" in 1828. For this pioneering venture Mrs. Davis gained the distinction of being the first white woman to set foot on the Yass Plains, which had been discovered by Hamilton Hume in 1821.

At "Gounyan" they erected an inn on the banks of the Murrumbateman Creek, and they named their inn "The Sawyers' Arms". A licence was taken out in respect to this inn in the year 1834.

By the mid 1830s a considerable number of people had settled on the Yass Plains and in 1837 a town was laid out by the government at Yass.

"The Sawyers' Arms" therefore provided a service to the district pioneers and to the travellers along the road from Yass to Queanbeyan.

Mr. and Mrs. Davis later closed the inn, which then fell into ruin. It is recalled by Mr. Vivian Davis (who was born in 1888) that when he was a boy the chimney of the inn was still standing. Today (1960) there is no visible evidence above the surface of the ground regarding the existence of this historic old building. However, minor excavations undertaken on the site have disclosed some interesting examples of broken crockery. The Davis family still possesses a huge "willow-pattern" meat plate that was originally used in "The Sawyers' Arms" inn.

After the closing of their inn-keeping venture, Mr. and Mrs. Davis turned to grazing and farming pursuits. They became large landholders, possessing at one stage vast areas of land, including properties at Mundoonan, Sutton and on the Murrumbidgee River.

George Davis lived to the age of 89 years and was buried in the family cemetery at "Gounyan". "Grannie" Davis lived on for another 22 years, attaining the truly remarkable age of 113 years by the time of her death in 1889. Mrs. Davis, too, was buried at the "Gounyan " cemetery.

Her tombstone, now age-worn and rather difficult to read, contains the following epitaphs:-

Thy voice is now silent, that true heart lies cold,
Whose smile of welcome oft met us of old,
We miss thee, and mourn thee in silence unseen...
Thy will be done, O God.

Perhaps the most fitting tributes to the memory of this outstanding lady can be obtained from the obituary notices that were published in two Yass newspapers at the time of her death. The notices are quoted verbatim.

The Yass Courier - 29th August, 1889

Death of Mrs. George Davis, Senior

We have had had within the last fortnight to chronicle the deaths of several old residents whose respective ages had exceeded four score years, and on many previous occasions we have also notified the death of persons who had been in the district for nearly half a century, but to-day it falls our lot to chronicle the death of one who was not only the oldest resident in the southern district, but was probably the oldest person in Australia. There are not, we think, many persons in the southern hemisphere to-day who can say that eleven decades have passed over their heads. The blessing of such a long life was left to Mrs. Davis, of "Gounyan" (widow of the late Mr. George Davis, senr. of the same place) who died at her residence "Gounyan", near Murrumbateman, on last Thursday afternoon, at the great age of 113 years. The deceased lady, who was a native of Dorcetshire [Dorsetshire, Dorset - Ed.], England, arrived in the colony in the year 1803 when she was 27 years of age, and could speak with accuracy up to the last 2 years of the administration of Governor King, and also of the administration of Governor Bligh and the colonial rebellion in 1808. At this time she was a widow, her husband having died previous to her leaving England. After being nearly twenty years in the colony she married Mr. George Davis, and in the year 1828 she came with him from Sydney to "Gounyan", which place has been her constant home for the last sixty-one years. Her husband, who died about twenty-four years ago, at the age of eighty-nine, was possessed, during his life, of considerable landed property, including Bloomfield, on the Murrumbidgee River, as well as the whole of the Mundoonan Estate, which at first comprised an area of 5,550 acres. The deceased (Mrs. Davis) had six children, three of whom are now living, and they are Mr. George Davis, of "Gounyan", aged 75 years, Mr. James Davis of Mundoonan, aged 73 years, and Mr. William Davis, of Sutton, aged 63 years. Mrs. Davis was the first white woman that ever crossed the Gap Range, known as the dividing range of the southern district and her son Thomas, who is now dead, was the first white child born in the Yass district, or it may be said, between Goulburn and Port Phillip. During her life time she was scarcely ever a day ill, and up to at least fourteen or fifteen years ago she would drive her cart by herself from "Gounyan" into Yass, a distance of about 11 miles, and sell her dairy and garden produce regularly every week. She was confined to her bed for about a fortnight before her death. Her medical attendant was Dr. Thane, but she never had a moment's pain, and she remained sensible up to within five or six hours of her death. During the last time she kept to her bed she knew every person, but scarcely ever spoke, and on the Tuesday before her death the last words she was heard to speak were, "I must go, I must go." During her long life she was esteemed by every person and as might only be expected the name of Grannie Davis was a household word in the town and district. Living as she did to over five score and ten years, she lived to see her children's children to the fourth generation, and in round numbers, members of her family tell us they number over 550. Her funeral took place at the family cemetery, "Gounyan" on Saturday, when the services were read by the Rev. Mr. Hughes, Wesleyan Minister of Yass, and at the grave, as was only fitting and right, the greatest ceremony and respect were paid to the remains of one who had left so many to mourn her death, and one who was the first European female to look upon and cross the Yass Plains.

The Yass Tribune - Printed early September, 1889

Death of Mrs. Geo. Davis Aged 113 Years

Mrs. George Davis, of "Gounyan", died on Thursday, having attained the remarkable age of 113 years. The old lady possessed all her faculties and was able to sew and mend with her needle up to within a few weeks of her death, and within the last month she was even driven into Yass, where she transacted some business connected with her late husband's estate. She arrived in the colony during Governor Macquarie's time, and came to the Yass district about 60 years ago, being it is said the first white woman to cross the Dividing Range. When she arrived here, what is now known as Yass was called Murrimbaloola and was inhabited only by blacks. Shortly after coming to the district, Mrs. Davis with her husband and family, settled at "Gounyan", 9 miles from Yass, then on the direct road to Queanbeyan, where they opened a public-house under the sign of the "Sawyers' Arms", which proved a profitable speculation and it was not long before the Davis' were enabled to purchase Bloomfield estate (now held by Dr. Campbell), Sutton, and Mundoonan, which with "Gounyan" placed the family amongst the largest property owners in the district. The family consisted of four sons (three of whom are still living) and two daughters; and now, with the fourth generation, it exceeds 500. Mrs. Davis was always a shrewd, active business woman, and only a few years ago discontinued bringing fruit and farm produce to Yass for sale; her house was a pattern of order and cleanliness. The remains of this remarkable old lady were interred at "Gounyan" on Saturday, but owing to the very inclement weather, the number of persons present at the grave was not nearly so large as would otherwise have been the case. Strange to say, there was laid in the coffin with the old lady, the youngest member of the fourth generation - the infant child of Mr. Andrew Davis of Yeumbra, whose wife died a few days ago.

* * *
Towards the end of the 19th century a group of some 30 Chinese gardeners was permitted to cultivate market gardens on a portion of "Gounyan". They used irrigation on the rich land beside the Murrumbateman Creek, and produced vegetables for the markets at Yass and Queanbeyan. These Asiatic gardeners lived in primitive bark huts adjacent to the ruins of the old inn.

The present-day "Gounyan" homestead 'was built for the price of £40, about 100 years ago. It is in quite good condition and is now occupied by Mr. George Arthur Davis and his family.

It is a tradition with the Davis family that one son in each generation is named George. The most youthful George Davis of "Gounyan" is George Edward Davis, aged 11 years, who is the sixth George Davis to have lived on historic "Gounyan".


Gold, bismuth, manganese, cobalt, and wolfram have been found in the Murrumbateman-Yass district, but only gold and bismuth have been worked to any extent.

The Nanima Creek Goldfield was originally worked many years before 1897, at a period which cannot be accurately dated. At this time, auriferous quartz reefs, some of which also contained bismuth were worked and later abandoned. In 1897, after a prospecting campaign of five weeks, Mr. James Remington discovered gold at a place about three miles east of Murrumbateman, close to and on the western side of Nanima Creek, in Parish of Nanima, County of Murray. As one result of this discovery, several of the old reefs were again taken up. At about the same time, Messrs. Butts and Cooper found gold about twenty-five chains south of Mr. Remington's discovery. The gold-bearing material, in both claims, was not an ordinary quartz reef, but consisted of a zone of crushed rock impregnated with very fine particles of gold. In 1935, the Caledon Gold Mine was opened about one mile north-east of Murrumbateman on a large gossanous outcrop. Several grants of aid from the Prospecting Vote were made in succeeding years, but very little success attended the mine. It finally closed in 1942, after the recovery of only sixty-nine ounces of gold. Generally, returns from the Nanima Goldfield were never large.

Bismuth has been produced in small quantities from several mines in the district. Some of these were worked many years ago, while others are of comparatively recent origin. The bismuth ore, in some cases, contained also a small amount of gold. The Cosmopolitan Mine, in Portion 4, Parish of Murrumbateman, two miles east of Kirkdale Post Office, and the Golden Betty Mine near Murrumbateman, produced such ore. In 1938, one cwt. of bismuth was recovered from the former mine. In all the mines, the bismuth occurs as carbonates near the surface, but as the sulphide at depth.

From 1908 until 1910, the Praeterita Mining Company attempted to recover gold and bismuth from Portion 32, Parish of Toual, but were unsuccessful and sold their plant. In 1919, Messrs. Murray and Miller took over the lease and carried out a great deal of reconditioning work on the mine. However, in 1925 their lease was cancelled.

Other attempts to mine bismuth were made around Murrumbateman, but all ended in failure. Since the bulk of the ore was of low grade, the failure of both bismuth and gold mining was principally due to the difficulty of treating batches of ore large enough to give an economic return of concentrates.

Cobalt has been found in the district, in association with arsenical pyrites in a quartz matrix.

Manganese has been found five miles north-east of the Nanima Bismuth Mine, and also three miles east of Murrumbateman.

Wolfram is associated with some of the bismuth ores.

Originally published as: Background Notes on the District of Murrumbateman, 1824-1960, by David J. Wagner (Public School, Murrumbateman, 1960).

All rights reserved. Republished with permission.

Note about the author: David J. Wagner [David James Wagner, Jr.] (1925-92) was the Teacher in Charge at the Public School, Murrumbateman, via Yass, NSW, in the years 1953-60. Mr Wagner also taught at West Wyalong Public School in 1951-52 and in 1961 he moved to Sydney, taking up a position as primary school teacher at Seaforth Public School. In later years he was the Headmaster of Pagewood Public School, Lewisham Public School, Whalan Public School and Frenchs Forest Public School.

David James Wagner (image)

David James Wagner at Murrumbateman Public School in 1960

Commentary on above essay

It is stated in the above essay by David J. Wagner (relying on Davis family sources in 1959) that Mrs. George Davis, Snr. (also known as Granny Davis) was born in 1776.

The two contemporary newspaper reports quoted above by David J. Wagner state that Mrs. Davis passed away at the age of 113 years old. The Yass Courier article also states that she arrived in Sydney in 1803.

However, recent research suggests that the facts may have been somewhat different.

The Yass Historical Society has published quite a detailed account here of Mrs. George Davis, Snr's life.

That account informs us that the maiden name of Mrs. Davis was Mary Ann Butt and that she was born in 1786 (not in 1776). It also states that Mrs. Davis arrived in Sydney on 28 July 1814.

The Yass Historical Society's version of the facts is supported by certain other websites, including family trees on which give Mrs. Davis's year of birth as either 1786 or 1791.

According to this recent research, Mrs. George Davis, Snr. would have been somewhere between 98 and 103 years old when she passed away in 1889.

-- Editor

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